Every day, Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion arrive in the western city of Lviv, about 40 miles from the Polish border. Some continue and are only there temporarily. But by some estimates Lviv now has an additional 200,000 people – and the city is trying to figure out logistical challenges such as where everyone can live and how they can get around as the streets, buses and trains of the city are increasingly crowded.
One response to the transport challenge is the bicycle: in a new campaign, a group in Denmark will send donated bikes to Lviv from Copenhagen, a city with more bikes than people. Lviv will also build new pop-up bike lanes to make getting around easier.
“Our city has become the main hub for people fleeing war, especially women and children, and elderly people who are unable to fight,” says Orest Oleskiv, head of the Transport Bureau at Lviv. As the war drags on, many are now considering staying in Lviv more permanently and finding jobs so they have enough money to survive. But getting to work is hard. Some arrived with cars, but as fuel prices keep rising and gas stations often run out of fuel, fewer people in Lviv are able to drive. This makes public transport more congested and more difficult to use. Other displaced people cannot afford to take the bus, especially since the city has had to increase 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 urban cycling consultancy Copenhagenize, to help. “They said, ‘Hey, can we just get some bikes somewhere? Everyone is sending humanitarian aid,” says Colville-Andersen. He knew that Denmark had a surplus of bicycles; even in the yard of his own building, he and other residents get rid of dozens of unwanted bikes every year. “Twice a year we clean up all the bikes that nobody wants,” he says.
Colville-Andersen quickly formed a nonprofit that is now raising money for the effort and will begin delivering truckloads of donated bikes this summer, with an initial goal of collecting 2,000 bikes in good condition and ready to ride. (He says he’d like to see that number grow to 100,000 bikes, or even a million.) Carlsberg, the Danish beer company, offered to use one of its trucks to make the first delivery. The logistics of crossing the border should be simple, says Colville-Andersen, as cities like Lviv receive 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 cycle paths with protective barriers. The city has been working on a better bike network for years, but larger projects have been temporarily put on hold. “This year we had planned to do a lot in the construction of cycling infrastructure,” says Oleskiv. “Now we can’t because of the war.” A new sustainable mobility plan, designed to help reduce pollution and reduce traffic congestion, was due to be in place at the end of February. Instead, the war started and the person who had written the plan joined the army.
As the new campaign begins, Colville-Andersen says he’s starting to hear from people in other parts of Ukraine. “They need bikes for other reasons: public transport sucks, there’s no gas, 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 Kyiv with my five-month-old daughter and my husband’s fights, and I have to go in town once a week to the pediatrician. A cargo bike would change my life. After starting bike deliveries in Lviv, he wants to expand the project to help the whole war-torn country.