It might sound like an April fools' joke published a few days late, but if reports in Gazeta Prawna turn out to be accurate, cyclists in Poland may have to obtain a licence and successfully pass a test in order to use public roads.
According to Gazeta Prawna, the latest brainwave from the country's PiS administration would see the so called 'Karta Rowerowa' (cyclist card) become mandatory for all cyclists using their bikes on the open road. The card system, which already applies to those under the age of 18, would only be attainable after passing a test on the Polish highway code at a local police station.
Given that earlier this year Poland's Foreign Minister effectively claimed that cyclists and vegetarians "have nothing to do Polish values" (comments he nonetheless later labeled as a joke), cyclists could be forgiven for thinking the current administration have something against them. That's not the view of Minister Andrzej Adamczyk however, who is quoted in Gazeta Prawna as saying:
"I have full respect for cyclists and this change is not being introduced against them, but rather for the benefit of their safety."
Andrzej Adamczyk, Minister of Infrastructure and Development
The reason cited by the government for the introduction of the mandatory cycling licence is the high number of accidents caused by cyclists who lack of knowledge of the rules of the road. In recent years accidents between cars and cyclists have resulted in around 300 deaths annually, writes Gazeta Prawna.
Nevertheless, cyclist groups have responded with a scathing attack on the government's plans and the statistics used to support the scheme. Following media reports of the compulsory cycling licence, the website miastadlarowerow.pl published a detailed critique of the proposals. In their article the website highlighted statistics from 2014, which state that more than 82% of road accidents were caused by cars. The article also strongly accused the government of bringing back communist style bureaucracy:
"The obligation to have a cycling card (for adults) is a throwback to the days of communism. The permission to ride your bike is not required in any developed country in the world. It is unprofessional and naive to believe that formal confirmation of the knowledge of the provisions in the exam will improve the safety of cyclists."
Marcin Hyła, representative of the management of the Cities For Bikes Association
Opponents of the scheme have also claimed that it would contravene an article in the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, as it reportedly states that one's right to use their bike cannot be taken from them when they cycle over European borders (provided the bike meets the minimum standards).
The aforementioned article did have a few positive words to say about the government however, as it give a relatively warm reception to the proposals for improving Poland's cycling infrastructure. Even so, the author stressed that any plans would only yield benefits if they are realised with the help of the cycling community, a method that has already proven successful in Gdansk.
Given that the PiS administration have an absolute majority in parliament, there is nothing opposition parties can do to stop the legislation introducing the mandatory cycling licence from coming into force.
Therefore there is a genuine possibility that such a plan could actually happen. If it does, the changes would obviously have huge implications for many of our readers. Seeing as the full extent of the proposals are not yet clear, at the present moment it is only possible to speculate about what it could mean for foreigners using their bikes in Wroclaw.
Gazeta Prawna believe that riding without a licence would "probably would be treated as a misdemeanor, though it is not known how high the penalty would be". One would guess that a fine would be involved, although it's difficult to say how much it would be. It is also not known whether the test would be available in English. Currently the Polish driving theory test can be taken in English, but the practical part must be done in Polish with the aid of a sworn translator.
Under the proposals Polish citizens with a driving licence need not apply for a cycling licence as they have already completed a test on the rules of the road. We do not yet know however, whether foreigners would be able to use their driving licences in the same way.
In theory, if cyclists remain on cycle paths at all times, they should not require a licence as they are not on the road itself. Even so, remaining on the cycle path at all times is easier said than done, and cyclists could find themselves getting fined if they use a stretch of public road to get from one cycle path to another. In most cases, it is also illegal to cycle on the pavement.
Whatever happens, it is difficult to argue that the new legislation would not be a major discomfort to cyclists or create an obstacle for anyone thinking of using a bike in Poland. In recent times Wroclaw's city bike program has enjoyed huge growth and record numbers of users, a trend that could be set to reverse should the changes go through in the manner described in the Polish press this week.