Budapesters have been waiting for fifty years for accessibility improvements on the busiest Hungarian square

The underpass at Örs vezér square is one of the busiest pedestrian crossing points in Hungary. For the last fifty years, the only way to cross between the HÉV (local train) terminus from Gödöllő and the M2 metro line, which provides access to the city centre, has been by stairs – there is no barrier-free or above-ground solution.

For those who do not wish to or cannot use the stairs at the moment, they can use the cycle crossing parallel to the tramway, which is not allowed for pedestrians according to the Highway Code. Typically, the strongest and fastest young people, as well as the elderly unable to climb stairs and people carrying heavy luggage, try to cross the road under the cover of the trams. However, the traffic lights are set for cyclists. The elderly, and people with baby strollers and wheelchairs, on the other hand, find it more difficult to change to this speed.

In addition, there is only one secret barrier-free option, which is a huge detour: in the Sugár  Shopping Center, you can take the elevator up to the first floor, from where you can access a pedestrian overpass, from where you can descend to the ground floor again in the elevator of the Árkád mall.

Escalators, elevators, and crosswalks have been promised

Last March, Csaba Horváth, MSZP mayor of Zugló, announced that there would be a new crosswalk on Örs. The implementation of the pedestrian and cycling development ideas that won the capital’s community budget was approved by the Property Committee of the Capital Assembly at its March meeting.

However, there is still no sign of the crosswalk, and pedestrians have been waiting for the promised improvement for almost a year.

In 2015, the current mayor, Gergely Karácsony, as mayor of Zugló, was baffled by the lack of accessibility on Örs: “We are tired of waiting, we need to take action as soon as possible to remove the barriers”, he said at a joint press conference with MEP Csaba Tóth (MSZP) on Örs vezér Square. “We are standing in one of the busiest underpasses in Budapest, with 50-60,000 people passing through every day,” Karácsony explained.

Since then, Gergely Karácsony has become the Mayor of Budapest, but there is no escalator anywhere. In 2020, Mayor Csaba Horváth reported that he had reached an agreement with the Mayor for an elevator to provide accessibility. He also said at the time that the previous term’s leadership in the capital had not supported the idea in 2015. In 2020, the elevator was promised for 2021. We asked the capital what happened to the escalator and the elevator promised for 2021, and how much these projects would cost. The Mayor’s Office sent us a long reply. It said that

“A new, safe crosswalk will be built in Örs vezér tér on Kerepesi Street between Árkád and Sugár, parallel to the existing bicycle crossing, which is also used by many people as a pedestrian crossing. Construction is expected to take 30 days. The crosswalk was voted for by the people of Budapest in the Community Budget. In parallel, discussions are ongoing to build more crosswalks in the square.” They added: “To give an idea of the cost of renovating an underpass, the Határ Street underpass was 2 billion HUF to make it barrier-free, and the Göncz Árpád city centre underpass will cost 8 billion HUF to renovate. The comprehensive renovation of Örs vezér Square will realistically take place at the same time as the connection of the M2 metro and the HÉV. The timing of this depends primarily on the government. What we see today in Örs vezér Square is the result of car-focused urban development that has fragmented (among other damages) pedestrian, cycling, and public transport networks. People have been driven underground, and the old HÉV to Keleti station has been cut back. This damage will take decades to repair and cost thousands of billions of euros at city level.”

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Pedestrians at the bicycle crossing on Örs vezér Square (photo: Mayor’s Office)

A crosswalk could be the development of the decade

For more than 50 years, it has been impossible to cross the Örs vezér Square intersection between the HÉV and the metro on foot without taking the stairs. A mistake was made in the design of the square that has not been solved to this day: the HÉV and the metro stop far away from each other and can only be reached by underpass.

Plans to link the M2 metro line with the Gödöllő HÉV already existed in the 1950s. According to the original plans, metro line 2 would have had a common terminus with the Gödöllő HÉV at Népstadion station (today’s Puskás Ferenc Stadium). However, these plans were not realised.

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Previous visual plan of the Örs redevelopment (Unitef/Vitézy Dávid/Facebook)

There were plans to solve this problem with the hundreds of billions of dollars of underground and overhead lines, or flyovers, planned for Örs, but no real progress was made. Current plans started between 2013 and 2015, and the project was restarted in 2021.

In an announcement on his social media site, Dávid Vitézy pointed out at the time that the state would provide HUF 4.6 billion in EU funding for further planning and preparation of the project. According to promises at the time, construction could start in 2024 if funding could be put behind the project in the next government and EU cycle.

Since then, the project has been very quiet, so if a zebra crossing is built alongside the cycle path, it would be perhaps the most influential development of recent decades on Örs vezér Square.

Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original Hungarian version of this story was written, and the video was produced by Gergely Pápai and can be found here.