In December 2022, Riga City Council adopted a new Cycling Infrastructure concept for the time period from 2022 to 2030. The concept has been developed by CIVITTA Latvia together with CIVITTA Romania. It has been warmly welcomed by local bicycle interest groups who have named the concept as one of the best yet developed.
The aim of the Cycling Concept is to update the existing Cycling Concept 2030 in line with the objective defined in the Riga Sustainable Development Strategy 2030. It will promote and improve safe and sustainable cycling opportunities in the city for everyday purposes, integrating cycling infrastructure into the overall transport system and urban environment of Riga. Thanks to the massive expansion in the infrastructure volumes and quality, it is planned that the number of cyclists will drastically increase by more than 400% by the year 2030 while a significant shift in safety will also be made - the number of traffic accidents will drop by 40%, making the trips safer for everyone, including pupils and elderly.
That change may be considered a valuable step towards a greener and safer city for everyone. Moreover, according to worldwide experience, it will also increase the overall health of the population as well as reduce the inequality level making the overall well-being of the whole nation and each person individually better.
The concept is based on three main components:
In Riga, the number of cyclists is constantly growing. Throughout the pre-COVID period from 2014 to 2019, the number of cyclists on the main bridges in the city grew significantly. Moreover, the trend in winter cycling has been observed – in 2020 the number of cyclists on winter days grew by more than 100% in comparison with the 2015 level. Also, the number of people who use bicycles weekly in the capital of Latvia grew up to 27% of all residents. The pace of growth appeared to be even higher during 2020 and 2021 – years, during which the Covid-19 pandemic imposed restrictions were in force in Latvia.
During the pandemic, almost every person in countries with strict regulations has realized that it is hard to spend all day without any physical activities. Due to that cycling has appeared to be not only a way to get somewhere epidemiologically safely but also a superior commute option to public transport or personal cars thanks to the opportunity to have some physical activities a bicycle provides.
However, considering the current infrastructure and the weather conditions during the Northern “dark” months it became absolutely clear that the cycling infrastructure has to be developed further with the main focus on safety and convenience for cyclists. This value proposition was also dictated by the statistics – around 4% of all traffic accidents throughout the year involved cyclists while most of them were in areas with a higher density of car traffic.
Cycling infrastructure in Riga in 2021
Nowadays, the cycling infrastructure in the capital of Latvia is not well developed – there are only a few places in Riga where cyclists can enjoy separate cycling lanes. Moreover, not all resident areas do have access to any type of city-managed cycling infrastructure. Finally, even though the city center has more cycling lanes than other neighborhoods, the vast majority of traffic accidents with cyclists take place in the center because the infrastructure is not safe. The situation increases the risks of injuries for a bigger number of city dwellers, due to which there was a need to change something. So, a new concept has been developed:
Riga cycling infrastructure vision
The Polaris for the concept was the Dutch example. Based on that, several priorities for cycling infrastructure development have been defined:
The network shall consist of arterial cycle lanes spaced no further apart than 500 m. They connect the main residential areas and potential destinations of city dwellers. The spacing is designed to ensure that residents in each Riga neighborhood have quick and convenient access to safe and quality cycling infrastructure. The purpose of the arterial cycle routes is also to provide connections to the municipalities of the region. Arterial cycling infrastructure is separated from other road users, including pedestrians, wherever possible, to ensure a safe experience for everyone. It is planned that arterial routes will serve as a major bicycle traffic attractor and will be the basis for the significant increase in cyclists' number.
Local connections provide users with more efficient access to arterial cycle routes, as well as route shortcuts. The cycleway hierarchy also clearly defines maintenance priorities, e.g. snow clearance in winter.
Finally, the third level of the hierarchy is the core network, which consists of all the other streets in Riga that should be safe for cycling. This will ensure a safe and convenient commute directly to one's home so that more especially vulnerable groups like pupils will be able to cycle safely.
The concept also pays attention to recreational routes in the green areas as well as a so-far novelty for the city – infrastructure along the railway. This has several advantages, but the most important is increased safety. By building appropriate cycling infrastructure along the tracks, cycling traffic will be diverted away from high-traffic streets and motorways, creating a safe environment for cyclists. At the same time, the increase in the length of the recreational routes will dramatically increase the opportunities for Rigans to spend their spare time healthier.
Additional attention has been paid to the cycling storage - it is planned that there will be a multiple times increase in bike parking lot numbers, including the closed-type ones. That will increase the convenience of travelling as well as decrease the number of potential bike thefts for every cyclist.
Cycling infrastructure in the city center of Riga
Also, particular attention has been paid to the city center where the biggest number of traffic accidents by cyclists take place. As can be seen, according to the developed concept, the majority of streets in the center will be either the first priority or the second one in the hierarchy of the cycling lanes. This is expected to increase the accessibility of many destinations in the center as well as increase the convenience and safety level for traffic participants. Moreover, the city center is thought to become the area where you can conveniently get from any neighborhood using the cycling infrastructure.
The reactions of NGOs involved in city planning and cycling promotion in Riga were positive. One of them – the Latvian cyclists association representative concludes that the developed concept is so far the best out of the already developed in the city; however, he already sees the potential area for improvement in the next terms. Moreover, it is great to see that the city has already become better for cyclists, taking into account some of the opportunities mentioned in the concept. For instance, some bicycle lanes are being built nowadays as well as the department of cycling infrastructure has been organized in the Riga City Council. Moreover, there are discussions in society about limiting access to cars and especially lorries in some areas, which should also increase convenience and safety for everyone.
Overall, the new Cycling Infrastructure concept is aiming to make the everyday life of every Rigan better by reducing inequality and barriers to cycling and, therefore, being healthier and fresher as well as improving the ecological situation in the city. The concept is not just a strategic paper, but a guide on how to significantly increase the well-being of residents with the help of comparatively inexpensive infrastructure.