Tbilisi invests in bicycling infrastructure as public awareness of benefits grows

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Gela Kvashilava, the founder of the Partnership for Road Safety Foundation during the World Bicycle Day celebrated in central Tbilisi.
Gela Kvashilava, the founder of the Partnership for Road Safety Foundation during the World Bicycle Day celebrated in central Tbilisi.
The Tbilisi City Hall aims to create a network of modern bicycle facilities. Plans to add a new four-kilometre bike lane are under way.
The Tbilisi City Hall aims to create a network of modern bicycle facilities. Plans to add a new four-kilometre bike lane are under way.
High vehicle speeds and a prevalent car culture pose the greatest challenges to modal shift in Georgia.
High vehicle speeds and a prevalent car culture pose the greatest challenges to modal shift in Georgia.

Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, is developing its bike lane network to encourage a modal shift to non-motorised transport, following long-term advocacy by the Foundation Partnership for Road Safety, a partner of the FIA Foundation, and shifting public perceptions of active transport in the wake of COVID-19.

The city’s latest announcement of further bike network developments follows the installation of new bicycle lanes in a number of major city streets last year, with ongoing advocacy for the creation of a further network to fully link with public transit hubs. The move has been championed by the Foundation Partnership for Road Safety which has spent the past decade building advocacy campaigns and supporting local capacity building measures, working with Tbilisi City Hall, local municipalities and local bike groups while also engaging in public outreach to promote cycling as an economic and effective form of transportation. The Foundation Partnership for Road Safety is led by Gela Kvashilava and is a long-term member of Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport (EASST) and partner of the FIA Foundation in the region.

Just over a quarter of the city’s journeys are made by foot, however, cycling has struggled to be recognised as a mobility option by road users and decision-makers alike; the last mobility audit of the city in 2016 identified that fewer than 1% of journeys were made by bicycle. Dangerous road infrastructure, high vehicle speeds and a prevalent car culture, even over short distances, pose the greatest challenges to modal shift which means these new investments in safe infrastructure are particularly welcome. Kakha Kaladze, Mayor of Tbilisi, also recently announced plans to introduce a bike-sharing scheme to the city which opens up cycling for those without their own bikes.

Mzevar Gogilava, Head of Traffic Management Department at Tbilisi City Hall, said: "Tbilisi City Hall is building a new bicycle infrastructure to promote active mobility and promote cycling as a mean of transportation. Our goal is to reduce the use of private vehicles when citizens travel short distances. We have been actively cooperating with the Partnership for Road Safety Foundation to introduce the best international practices when planning streets or conducting educational campaigns to raise awareness about the benefits of cycling.”

The COVID-19 lockdown has played a role to highlight the importance of non-motorised transport modes as people avoid traveling in close proximity to each other. As more people have taken to walking and cycling in Georgian cities, the short and longer term impacts on air quality, road safety and health have become more widely recognised. Increased cycling has enabled cities to plan and manage the growing pressure on public transport, networks, exploring the options for how to ‘build back better’ in the recovery period.

Gela Kvashilava, Director for the Partnership for Road Safety Foundation, said: “There is momentum for bold action in transport and the pandemic lockdown proved it clearly for all of us, including for decision makers. The Coronavirus lockdown has shown that more people are willing to cycle in Tbilisi. Designing the shared road infrastructure will increase safety for vulnerable road users who are the most affected in current conditions. It will also enable the city to manage the growing pressure on public transport during peak hours.”