When we lived in Lithuania for a year, we probably saw about 5 people riding bikes the entire time. Vilnius is a big walking city, and also has great public transportation, and most people either walk or ride the trolleybuses to get where they need to go. So, this is about what we were expecting when we went this year, and most of this still holds very true. There was maybe a slight uptick in automobile traffic since we were there, but not much. However, there are now people everywhere on bicycles. Well, let me rephrase that – in the inner part of the city, it’s difficult to go anywhere without seeing someone on a bicycle. Still, this is a major change from 6 years ago. If it keeps going, they will pass Portland up before long in terms of percentage of people on bicycles. I don’t know what the laws and official policies of Lithuania are regarding riding bicycles (except that helmets are only required for children and teenagers), but clearly a lot of people are choosing to use bicycles.
Vilnius has one of the most interesting ways of sharing public space I’ve ever seen in a city. Different from Amsterdam, for instance, where everything is very segregated in many parts of the city – which works very well – but Vilnius is interesting in a different way. It seems that basically all people share all the public space more-or-less respectfully. On many of the roads – particularly ones in the old town or center which are narrow and difficult to drive on – people just simply walk in the road. There may only be about two feet of sidewalk on some streets, and cafe seating takes up the whole sidewalk in some places, so people just walk around it. Cars driving down the street wait for pedestrians or bikes to move over so they can pass, which they usually do slowly, and then the people just move back into the street again. Cars park on sidewalks, so people walk around them. Bikes mix into this all now in about the same way. There are painted bike lanes, most of which are on the massively wide sidewalks (compared to Portland sidewalks), but there aren’t enough people riding bikes yet to cause pedestrians to stay out of them, so again people basically just end up wherever there is room for them. It seems a little bit chaotic sometimes, but being there and walking the streets, it’s all very comfortable and normal and it works out quite well, I think.
Of course, this is not true of all roads, as there are larger ones (which are about as big as the minor through-streets in Portland) which are meant as automobile thoroughfares, but those streets always have wide sidewalks, frequent crosswalks, and people in cars still drive slowly enough that they can and will actually stop for you if you step into the road. Until you get to the very edges of the center of the city, streets are no larger than 3 or 4 lanes, each lane being about a foot or two wider than the average 4-passenger car.
This all makes for a pretty good environment for riding bikes, since people driving cars are used to looking out for people outside of cars, giving them priority when necessary, and the roads are designed in such a way that traffic moves quite slowly and comfortably in most parts of the city. Distances aren’t large, and things people actually want and need are scattered all through every part of the city, so even people way on the edge of the city can easily walk to get groceries, etc.
Anyway, enough talk, and on to the photos :)