Thursday, July 23, 2009

Barcelona: Bicycle Culture?


Barcelona has some amazing bicycle projects under way. The Bicing program offers bicycles to residents who sign up for the program. Once you're a member, you can grab a bicycle from any station and return to any other - and the program is popular! Everywhere you go, you'll see people riding the bicycles.

But where are they riding them? On the sidewalk, the wrong way on the street, the wrong way in the bicycle lane, through red lights, everywhere except where they would be if they had a strong cycling culture.

Barcelona also has a pretty extensive network of bicycle lanes and projected lanes. They run between many of the neighborhoods and connect to the beaches. In some places they are real bicycle lanes, separated from the cars by trees and curbs and with their own traffic signals.

But, in other places, the lanes are a mess. Sometimes they're blocked by something (as seen above, and for no reason, there were plenty of other places to put those benches). And often, the bicycle lane runs directly through the line of traffic into and out of the Metro stations. In one place, the bicycle lane is painted on the ground directly in front of the city bus map on the back of the bus shelter. So, anyone looking at the city bus maps along that route (at every station) is standing in the bicycle lane while doing it. The Metro station crossings are the most dangerous. Because the lane runs on the sidewalk directly beside the Metro entrance , it would be very easy to ride right into the Metro. Look away for a moment and you will either be crashing into a crowd exiting the Metro or crashing down the stairs into the Metro. This might be why you rarely see locals actually riding in the bicycle lanes.

Overall, Barcelona's bicycle lane system reminds me of New York. There are lanes all over the city, but they don't connect well, some of them are outright dangerous and everyone uses them improperly. The most popular activity in Barcelona seems to be riding the wrong way on the bicycle lane or riding in the pedestrian lane right next to the bicycle lane. Even when there is a lane running on both sides of the street.

Barcelona puts cars first, then scooters and motorcycles, then the Bus and Metro system, then pedestrians and bicycles are last. Everywhere we went, I saw the bicycle lane being used to store trash cans, park delivery trucks, and more. Bicycle lanes in Barcelona seem to be widely considered available space for anything but bicycles. And yet, it still often ranks with the worlds greatest bicycling cities.

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