On recent trips to Zagreb and Ljubljana (admittedly nominally “Balkan”), it was thrilling and no end of encouraging to see that since my last visit several years ago, both cities have gotten massively more bike friendly. This is a trend happening in many large cities around the world (yes, even the US), but it’s helped a great deal in these two towns due to a) owning a car being insanely expensive b) buying gas for said car if it’s owned being even more expensive and c) parking for expensive car with expensive gas being non-existent. But, that’s only part of it.
Much like I had previously seen in Varaždin, people are more encouraged to use a bicycle when the distances needing to be traversed are relatively flat. Zagreb does this well in the lower town, although the upper requires legs honed in San Francisco. Ljubljana is pretty much all flat unless you feel the need to bike up to the castle in some Monty Python-esque attack on the fortification. With requisite flatness, if you do simple things like tossing up bike lanes all over the place, it encourages people to bike even more. It gives the illusion, if not the actually fact that there is a dedicated space for bicycles on the road and they don’t have to battle with cars… as much.
The devil is indeed in the details with these sorts of things and one big failing of Zagreb is that while they’ve made it a great deal easier to get around town on a bike, they’ve forgotten that once you get somewhere, you sorta need a place to park it. As such, people come up with the whackiest places to chain up their bikes. The Slovenians in Ljubljana have it much easier though as the powers that be saw fit to toss up bike racks all over the town center. They also have a bike sharing system like Vélib’ and Barcelona’s Bicing. Needless to say, the bike policies of Ljubljana are full 21st century, while Zagreb is somewhere back in the early 1990′s, much like their turbo folk pop.