Monday, November 26, 2007

A few notes on Andrey Slivka's Washington Post piece on Kyiv's crazy traffic situation - Can't Stand D.C. Traffic? You Should See Kiev (thanks for the link, Mike).

I wonder if this figure is true:

About 60,000 new cars were registered in Kiev this October alone, according to the Unian news agency [...].

2,000 new cars registered daily?

Perhaps this is why we don't have the coalition yet? Because they were too busy buying new cars for the whole month following the election?

UPDATE: Petro of Petro's Jotter wrote this in a comment:

to answer your question. the 60k number for kyiv is not correct. Ukraine in total registered 60,482 cars in October. In kyiv 13,491 were registered in October. still a huge number.


Can't agree with this:

Another peculiarity: Cars are really unnecessary here because Kiev's Soviet-built subway system is excellent.

Kyiv's population has grown substantially since the Soviet times, and subway trains are jam-packed all too often now - because they aren't long enough anymore. Adding extra cars to fit more passengers isn't an option - because old stations aren't long enough to fit longer trains.

Also, those who live in places like Troyeshchina or Teremki - and that's plenty of people - aren't likely to call Kyiv's subway system "excellent" - because it doesn't reach to where they live, and getting there has always been a huge pain in the ass.


Walking here can be dangerous because the sidewalks are covered with cars, both parked and moving. That ritual of city life -- the promenade -- has become an adventure in the sort of defensive, serpentine ambulation with which the pedestrian makes his way through a strip mall parking lot. And it doesn't help that Ukrainian traffic cops know better than to stop expensive vehicles: It can be bad for their careers. Drive a Hummer or a Bentley here (Bentleys are common), and you can barrel through any red light and over any lawn or sidewalk.


And it's hard to believe now that just a decade ago they somehow managed to tame Kyiv's drivers into stopping to let pedestrians cross the street... It was such a "wow!" thing for anyone who was visiting from crazy places like Moscow...


But Ukraine, despite the aspirational rhetoric of some of its Western-looking politicians, isn't Europe. In a macho culture that has embraced conspicuous consumption, the idea of people taking to bicycles like the burghers of Amsterdam is inconceivable.

Alas, yes.

But perhaps winter that lasts half a year is as much of a factor as our "macho culture."


Quite predictably, this Kyiv-centric piece turns evil-Russia-centric by the end:

There is a geopolitical irony to all this: Ukraine, a poor and weak country with no oil of its own, is giving itself over to a car- and oil-based culture at a moment when that culture is approaching its limits. The global cheap-oil party is approaching its end even as Ukraine shoves its way into the rubbish-strewn foyer near midnight.

And while Ukraine may be spared $100 barrels of oil on the world market, that's only because it has a potentially bigger problem: It gets all its oil from or through Russia, an assertive power whose leadership resents seeing its old vassal persist in its delusions of independence. Russia has also proved willing to use the "energy weapon" against Ukraine, as seen in the 2006 European gas crisis, when Russia briefly shut off gas supplies to its southerly "little brother." And so every time a patriotic Ukrainian proudly fills up his new Prado, he's pushing his vulnerable country further into the arms of the hegemon to the north. It's yet another bleak historical irony for Ukraine that its giddy embrace of Western automotive culture may someday seal its ultimate submission to Russia -- and sever it from the West.

Hey, but could it be that we are so carefree because we know that a quarter of a million ethnic Ukrainians live and work in Russia's oil-rich Tyumen region alone? Like, we're "poor," "weak" and "vulnerable," haven't got any nice weapons, but instead we've got huge "sleeper cells" all over the "hegemon to the north" - and who knows what this could translate into "someday" - oil-wise, at least?

I'm kidding, of course, but still, it's pretty obvious that cars are choking life out of Kyiv, and it's such a pity that to keep this perfectly focused piece relevant for D.C. readers, the author has to turn around, face Russia, and start sounding like some Cassandra.


  1. I got my issues with the Kremlin, but yeah, that jab at Russia at the end was a poor attempt at rabble-rousing.

  2. I regret not caring enough to read the entire article when I joined the debate at Orange Ukraine.

    Another peculiarity: Cars are really unnecessary here because Kiev's Soviet-built subway system is excellent.

    To me, it sounds like this: “The U.S. penitentiary system is really unnecessary because the Ten Commandments are excellent.”

    The author makes an objective observation, adds a hypocritical “eco-friendly” suggestion, and finally cooks up a geopolitical assessment that rivals the ESM funny farm.

    I can't recall a more intellectually bizarre summary of Kyiv's traffic/transportation problem. Apparently the author has only one solution for Ukraine’s oil trap, and it’s not biodiesel. It’s a trip back to the Stone Age.

  3. I realize the author of the article lives in Kiev and is probably not a regular reporter for the WashPost, but I was pretty amused that an American paper would have the gall to run a piece criticizing another country's car culture. (Unless the paper was the New York Times, because, in the words of folk singer Dan Bern, "in New York there are full-grown adult people who have never been behind the wheel of a car.") I mean, which country has played the biggest role in glamorizing car culture and making the international middle class feel that a car is a necessity?

  4. to answer your question. the 60k number for kyiv is not correct. Ukraine in total registered 60,482 cars in October. In kyiv 13,491 were registered in October. still a huge number.

  5. I love riding my bike to work and do it as much as possible, to the point that my #1 criteria for buying my first house was that it was within 30 mins of downtown by bicycle.

    That all said, I stop riding my bike to work when the temps get below freezing. Not being able to feel your fingers, having your eyes ice over or ice shut while riding your bike, and worrying about frostbite just sort of takes the fun out of it. That's if there is no snow or ice on the ground. It only takes one second of in-attention and a patch of ice and you are looking at a sprained or broken arm/wrist/hand.

    I made the mistake of trying to ride my bike to work with about 12 inches of snow on the ground once. What was normally a 10 minute ride took about 40 minutes to do and I was completely exausted and soaked with sweat by the time I got to work.

    So yeah, people you advocate for riding bikes during winter should be shot.


    Ukraine continues to climb the charts in terms of automotive markets in Europe. Good for business. Bad for traffic. In August alone over 51,000 new vehicles were registered in Ukraine. (Data Courtesy of Auto-Consulting)

  7. Petro, thanks so much for writing and sorry for taking forever to approve your comment - I thought I did, but then I looked and it turned it wasn't there. This comments moderation thing isn't for absent-minded people, that's for sure.

    There's a lesson for Slivka and any other journalist reporting on Ukraine: don't trust UNIAN, go talk to people who actually know something.

  8. Ok, I'll try again.

    I ride my bike to work as much as possible half of the year. But in the winter it is just too difficult even for a serious cyclist. It's unreasonable to expect people to cycle to work during the winter for the most part.

    I recently heard a story on NPR about how bikes are getting forced off of the road by cars in Beijing.
    I think that's sad in a place where there is so much air polution anyway.