Every day, Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion arrive in the western city of Lviv, about 65 kilometers from the Polish border. Some continue and are only there temporarily. But by some estimates, Lviv now has an additional 200,000 residents — and the city is trying to come up with logistical challenges such as where everyone can live and how to get around as the city’s streets, buses and trains get busier.
One answer to the transport challenge is bicycles: In a new campaign, a group in Denmark will send donated bicycles to Lviv from Copenhagen, a city with more bicycles than people. Lviv will also build new pop-up bike paths to make it easier to get around.
[Photo: bikes4ukraine]“Our city has become the main hub for people escaping the war, especially women and children, and the elderly who cannot fight,” said Orest Oleskiv, head of the Transport Office in Lviv. As the war continues, many are now making more permanent plans to stay in Lviv and get jobs so that they have enough money to survive. But going to work alone is difficult. Some came by car, but as fuel prices continue to rise and gas stations often run out of fuel, fewer people can drive in Lviv. That makes public transport busier and more difficult to use. Other displaced persons cannot afford to travel by bus, especially as the city has had to raise fares due to rising diesel prices.
Last month, Oleskiv and others in Lviv reached out to Copenhagen-based cycling infrastructure guru Mikael Colville-Andersen, founder of the urban cycling consultancy Copenhagenize, for help. “They said, ‘Hey, can we get bicycles from somewhere? Everyone sends humanitarian aid,'” Colville-Andersen says. He knew Denmark had a surplus of bicycles; even in the courtyard of his own apartment building, he and other residents do every year dozens of unwanted bicycles gone.”Twice a year we clean up all the bicycles that no one wants,” he says.
Colville-Andersen quickly formed a nonprofit that is now raising money for the effort and will begin delivering truckloads of donated bicycles this summer, with the first goal of collecting 2,000 bicycles in good condition and roadworthy. (He says he’d like to see that grow to 100,000 bikes, or even a million.) Carlsberg, the Danish beer company, has offered to use one of its trucks to make the first delivery. The logistics of crossing the border should be simple, Colville-Andersen says, as cities like Lviv have received a steady stream of humanitarian aid. The city will help coordinate deliveries.
As part of the project, Lviv also plans to install more than 12 miles of new bike paths with protective barriers. The city has been working on a better bicycle network for years, but larger projects have been temporarily put on hold. “This year we planned to do a lot of building cycling infrastructure,” says Oleskiv. “Now we can’t because of the war.” A new sustainable mobility plan, designed to reduce pollution and reduce congestion, was set to be introduced at the end of February. Instead, the war started and the person who wrote the plan joined the military.
As the new campaign begins, Colville-Andersen says he’s starting to hear from people in other parts of Ukraine. “They need bicycles for other reasons: public transport is bad, there is no petrol or the roads are bombed, like in Bucha,” he says. “I just got a message from a woman who said: ‘Thank you for the crowdfunding for Lviv. But I live in a suburb of Kiev with my five-month-old daughter, and my husband is fighting, and I have to go once a week. into town to go to the pediatrician, a cargo bike would change my life.” After he started delivering bicycles in Lviv, he wants to expand the project to help the entire war-torn country.
Other efforts include collecting bicycles for donations to Ukrainian refugees in other countries, from Denmark and Ireland to Canada. But Colville-Andersen believes it will be the first to send large-scale shipments of bicycles to Ukraine itself, where more than 8 million people are internally displaced.
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