The trials of cycling in bike-hostile Moscow
One popular joke in Moscow goes: "When the drunken driver was taken to the police station he was already sober. Why? Traffic jams.''
With congestion in the capital is going from bad to infernal, an increasing number of people see cycling as a solution.
But riding a bike in Moscow is somehow a different experience from cycling in any other European city. With no bike lanes but plenty of road rage, most cyclists in Moscow, myself included, keep off the streets and stay on the sidewalk. But while cycling on the pavement, you need to watch out not only for pedestrians and baby carriages but for the sudden opening of car doors. Yes, parking on the sidewalk is also OK in the Russian capital.
Traffic jams have become as recognizable a feature of Moscow as the Kremlin's onion domes. Congestion is so bad that it's common to travel three hours from downtown to the outskirts in rush hour. Motorists are estimated to spend an average of 15 hours a week stalled in traffic.
So in a truly revolutionary step to make Moscow bike-friendly and ease congestion, the city government has earmarked more than 600 million rubles ($20 million) over the next four years to build cycling paths and bike racks.
I started cycling to work in the summer of 2010 when a colleague, who lives much farther from the office than I do, mentioned that he occasionally cycles to work. Just five years ago the only people who rode bikes in Moscow were either teenagers or eccentric elderly men. Now it's not unusual to see an investment banker cycle to work.
I try to cycle to work a couple of times a week in warm weather, which is May through early October here. Despite the lack of bike lanes and the hostility of motorists and pedestrians alike, cycling in Moscow can be a joy compared to the headaches of driving: You fly past the gridlock and don't have to worry about finding a parking spot.