Our Partners speak about the Iron Curtain Trail project - Bulgarian Cycling Association, ICT covers 3 regions in Bulgaria: South West Region, Central South Region, South East Region
The project's imlementation period ended by the end of last year, so we asked our project partners to assess our common work in the last two and a half years. We will publish these short reports during coming weeks on ict13.eu.

Partner’s name: Bulgarian Cycling Association

Project manager: Evgeny Apostolov

Region: ICT covers 3 regions in Bulgaria: South West Region, Central South Region, South East Region

What was your task in the Iron Curtain Trail project? 

Work Package Leader - Coordination of the Work Package 3. Implementation of the ICT project outputs at national, regional and local level to assure long term development of cycling tourism in Bulgaria.

What is your overall opinion on the project?

The Bulgarian section of the project was specified as a MTB  route type due to geographical circumstances. That means mostly short term trips will be needed from the potential MTB tourists. The trans-border character of the project helped to share good practices and develop ideas for cycling policies implementation.

The implementation of the ICT project in Bulgaria  led to  a lot of meetings with the regional and local authorities. They expressed their concerns of the obstacles in front of cycling in Bulgasria and the possible solutions.  The project generated a lot of positive discussions and helped the identification of cycling tourism as a way to help the economical and touristicaldevelopment of the border regions. 

What are the main achievements of the project for your region?

The detailed action plan paved the way for  future investments at  local and regional level in the areas where the ICT passes through. It also showed to key stakeholders the positive  impact over the local tourism and how high is the return on investment to produce a long term tourist product.

Cycling tourism is a new issue in Bulgaria but with a huge potential.  The ICT project  helped to rise the awareness of the importance of multi-level actions for investment in cycling infrastructure.
The sustainable transport offers created a good practice for most of the local authorities on how essential is accessibility for local tourism and the regions.

The region of Malko Tarnovo and Carevo were happy to put the ICT action plan in their municipal development plans and to assure funds for its implementation. 

A significant achievement with impact on national level was the creation of a lobby strategy. This led to an adaptation on a national level and creation of a national lobby strategy with a national lobby portal (velolobby.eu) to sum up all plans and to target key stakeholders for a long term lobby campaign. The target is to keep the ICT action plan on the agenda of National Authorities and use every opportunity for funding.

The ICT project started the process of licensing as a cultural route at the Institute for Cultural Routes in Luxemburg creating a synergy with the cultural tourism. At the moment ‘points of interest’ are identified and assessed along the ICT to complete the process.

How do you think this project can have a follow-up for your region?

The most important output for Bulgaria was the  identification and definition of all obstacles in front of cycling in Bulgaria – institutional, legislative, financial and social during the numerous meetings with local and regional authorities.  As a result,  and in relation with other ongoing projects several initiatives were started to overcome these obstacles and assure long term investments in cycling and implementation of cycling policies at national, regional and local level.

During the Leadership program event  in Sofia  in October (organized by ECF) we presented the ICT action plan to the relevant National Authorities in Bulgaria.  We concluded and agreed that any cycling related projects and initiatives must be in line with the following activities:

-    THE STRATEGY – Launching the Bulgarian Cycling Strategy centralizing and coordinating cycling policies among all relevant stakeholders and authorities in horizontal and vertical aspect. Special attention was given to the ICT areas and the proposed funds for investment.

-    INSPIRED – Inclusion of cycling policies in the plans for regional development. Short term goal:

A. Inclusion of cycling policies in the municipal Development Plans, based on relevant links to the Regional Development Plans.

B. Explicit mentioning of cycling in relevant national strategies

-     REZOVO – Opening of a cycling walking border check point at Rezovo at the final point of ICT. Short term goal:

A. Enabling cycling tourists to get to the Black Sea by the ICT route and then continue to Istanbul to the south or to the north. In this way the last section of the ICT  will not be by-passed as it happens now.

B. Extra tourist flow will be generated for the ICT from tourists going to/from Istanbul that may choose the route to avoid the high traffic road in central Bulgaria.

-    KERABAN – Changing laws and regulations in favor of cycling. Short term goal after those legal changes occur: 

A. introduction of contraflow solutions to increase urban cycling;  This may positively affect cycling in cities along the ICT.

B. Clear definition in certain laws concerning cycling infrastructure  planning to enable city planners to include cycling lanes in future projects or during reconstruction of  intercity roads and also signposting in rural areas. This specific obstacle was defined as a major limitation in front of the implementation of  ICT project.

The above initiatives will be a core subject during the planed focus groups (under other ongoing projects) and solutions will be searched for short and long term periods.

Scanning of the present Operational programs for cycling related policies and  their explicitly mentioning in the corrected versions will be a key priority in the following months. This work may guarantee the needed funds for the long term investments in cycling infrastructure and cycling policies that will support the ICT action plan  implementation.

Otherwise the impact of all present and future cycling related projects will not be significant and real change of the modal split cannot be expected. Even partial success in those initiatives will help a lot and will support cycling in Bulgaria and the region.

Together with the DCC and BAAT from the ICT project consortium and with the newly established Bulgarian Cycling Network we planned initiatives for 2015 also in relation with the implementation of the ICT action plan.  As a short term goal we will create a Balkan Cycling Club to focus activities on EuroVelo development in the Balkan region.

And finally we will make every effort to generate new project ideas to continue the ICT project implementation, especially in the Turkish section using the new cross border programs.