One of the things that delighted me about Barcelona is their attitude to the cyclist – cycle lanes and bike hire stands are commonplace.
Now it could be said that the same holds true here in the UK as many cities have followed Boris Johnson’s lead and introduced cycle hire schemes to encourage people to opt for a more sustainable way of getting about, but I can’t say I’ve noticed them put to use with the same degree of enthusiasm as in Barcelona. I’ve seen the odd user in Newcastle, in Glasgow, and of course in London, but Bicing (the name of Barcelona’s project) riders are ubiquitous.
The acceptance of cycling is perhaps best demonstrated by the garb of the riders. In the UK commuters tend to be lycra-clad, helmeted and waterproofed; the need to change at either end of the journey being one of the barriers to take up. In Barcelona the vast majority of cyclists I saw wore ordinary clothing, and in many cases clothing that would not be considered practical in the UK; boots, short skirts, suits and fishnet tights being amongst the options chosen.
This of course hints at one of the factors that Barca has in its favour; the weather. If you don’t have to worry about a skunk mark of muddy water spraying up your back you can wear what you like, but the lack of helmets points to another factor. People feel comfortable and safe here.
Much of that must be down to the abundance of wide, off-road cycle lanes and traffic management systems. The infrastructure is so much better than in the UK where the provision of a cycle lane means a strip of paint at the roadside which is often blocked by parked vehicles and offers no protection from passing juggernauts. The rate of cycling fatalities in London equates to roughly one a month, Barcelona’s cycling citizenry don’t seem to consider themselves at risk and there are very few recorded deaths.
We might have to put up with the rain for a while longer in the UK, but our town planners could learn from the Catalonians.