This is the English translation of the article “Las cuentas claras sobre el Plan de la Bicicleta de Sevilla 2007-2010”, written in Spanish by our friends of Biciescuela Granada.
There has been lots of talk about the good results of Seville’s Cycling Plan 2007-2010. Among the advantages commonly granted to the cycling promotion model use in Seville, these are the main three:
- Increase in the number of bicycle users
- Reduction in car usage
- Reduction in bicycle accidents
The scope of Seville’s Cycling Plan was to build a 142 km long network of segregated bike lanes. Practically all of them were at sidewalk level, having two directions of traffic (bidirectional), 1,25 m wide per direction and using the same road intersections as pedestrians. The cost of building this network was 35 million Euro (250,000 Euro per km) (El País, 11 May 2014). Moreover, the total estimated four-year cost for the plan’s management was 6.7 million Euro divided into:
- ten specific projects about traffic education, health, etc. (4.9 million, 73.2% of the budget)
- infrastructure maintenance (662,000 Euro, 9.8%)
- “Oficina de la Bicicleta” (Cycling Office) (234,000 Euro, 3.4%)
- Civic commision (234,000 Eur, 3.4%)
- Bike parkings (162,000 Eur, 2,4%)
(Source: Plan de la Bicicleta de Sevilla, 2007)
1. Increase in the number of bicycle users
According to the data provided by Seville’s Cycling Plan (2007), in spring 2006 -just before the network of segregated bike lanes was built-, bicycle trips were 3.2% of the city’s traffic (41,744 persons cycled daily). In addition to this figure, 47,554 persons were cycling several times per week. Therefore, according to Seville’s Cycling Plan, 88,692 persons could be considered bicycle users. None of the Plan’s authors were expecting this result: according to them, “it is a surprising figure” (Seville’s Cycling Plan, 2007, p. 20). According to this data, Seville was in 2006, before building the network of bike lanes, one of the Spanish cities were bicycle usage was higher. Indeed, in 1986 it was already, when 31,500 bicycles were travelling daily throughout the city (Sevilla es la ciudad española en la que más se usa la bicicleta ABC, 12 agosto de 1986, p. 29).
Just after Seville’s Cycling Plan was completed the number of people using a bicycle in a day-to-day basis reached its higher number: 72,565 (5.6% of the modal share) (SIBUS, 2011). Since then, this figure has decreased: 69.500 in 2013 (SIBUS, 2013) and 61,700 in 2015 (SIBUS, 2015) with more than 160 km of segregated bike lanes (Europa Press, 26 de febrero de 2016). All these figures are even lower than the 88,692 persons that in 2006 were already using their bikes several times per week. Therefore, the bicycle usage figures show that Seville’s Cycling Plan was not as successful as it has been repeated several times: after spending 42 million Euro it did not even manage to duplicate the number of people using bicycles routinely.
In any case, in all cities in Spain (with or without promotion policies, more hits or misses, positive or negative consequences) an exponential increase is happening in bicycle usage as a daily means of transportation. The striking fact is that in Seville the opposite is happening: bicycle usage is decreasing. Probably the cause is that the chosen infrastructure was obsolete since the plan’s beginning: it is especially narrow (it jams easily), no lateral security spaces, conflicts with pedestrians… which makes unsafe to travel on them at a speed higher than 10 km/h, and therefore it prevents developing the entire cycling’s potential as a means of transportation when compared with other vehicles. As a matter of fact, Seville’s city regulations require cyclists to use bike lanes wherever they exist (art. 35) (some lanes on the sidewalks also have signs marking them as compulsory) and segregated bike lanes have speed limits between 15 and 20 km/h (art. 39).
Regarding bike usage growth in Spanish cities, we can take as an example Granada, where there has not been any systematic public policy promoting cycling. Even though there have not been measurements of cycling in the modal share, we know a few data points:
- According to the number of users registered at the bike parking facilities at the University Hospital Virgen de las Nieves, 10% of the staff are bike users (Juan Raya, personal communication, 2016).
- Cycling amounts to 9% of traffic in Gran Vía and Reyes Católicos streets according to our own measurements (Biciescuela Granada, 2016).
- According to a mobility study at UGR done by Blanco (2011), 6% of the university community cycles (7.91% of the men and 4.08% of women): more than 50% are students and 35% are women. 7.79% of the university community living in central Granada cycles, and 2.71% of the ones living in the metropolitan area cycle.
In the Netherlands 90% of the population used to cycle until the first half of the 20th century (Netherlands Ministry of Transportation, 1999; Bruheze undated.). They have never achieved the same figures again, not even with unidirectional bike lanes. Instead, in Spanish cities never in history have we had that many cyclists on our streets. Moreover, the weight of pedestrian travel in our urban environment equals the sum of foot traffic plus cycling in most Dutch or Danish cities.
On the other hand, one of the arguments most used to justify building segregated bike lanes is to encourage the most vulnerable population sectors (including women) to cycle. Nevertheless, according to the results achieved by Seville’s Cycling Plan, we can see that building and promoting a network of segregated bike lanes has been unable to break the gender barrier. Only 32% of cyclists in Seville are women (SIBUS, 2011), which is a similar figure to the one in other cities, such as Madrid, where a network of segregated bike lanes like Sevilla’s has not been built (Villarramblas, 2013). Therefore, and contrary to what some say, cycling segregation does not determine women’s relationship to cycling as means of transportation.
Definitely, building segregated bike lanes is not the most effective measure to increase cycling in our social, cultural and urban contexts. That’s the conclusion of the UPM study affirming that cycle lanes do not guarantee a higher bicycle usage. We add that they are not necessary because changing between means of transportation depends more on land planning, public urban space and on cultural, social and educational aspects (Biciescuela Granada, 2016). For example, in Shkodër (Albania) there have never been bike lanes and 29% of all journeys are made by bicycle and 44% on foot (EPOMM, 2016).
2. Does «more bikes» mean «fewer cars»?
According to the research project Investigation about bicycle usage in the city of Seville, 2011 (SIBUS, 2011) 33% of current Sevillan cyclists were already cycling before the network of segregated bike lanes was built; 17.35% walked, 24.68% used public transportation, 2.68% motorbikes and 21.44% cars.
If we calculate how much cycling has reduced car usage we get the following (taking into account that 5.6% is the cycling participation in the total modal share, 21.44% is how many cyclists were travelling before by car as drivers or passengers and 1.2 is the average car occupation in Spain):
- First we calculate how many are 21.44% (cyclists previously travelling by car) of the 72,565 daily cyclists: 15,580.
- Taking into account that the average car occupation in Spain is 1.2 persons/car, then 15,580 / 1.2 = 12,897.
- 21.44% of the 5.6% modal share of cycling is 1.2% bike trips previously done by car. Again, if we take into account the average car occupation, 1.2% / 1.2 = 1% of the total trips are those where cycling has replaced travelling by car.
Cycling has avoided only 12,897 car trips, a figure dwarfed by the number of daily car trips measured in 2006: 473,021 (SIBUS, 2011). The study does not take in to account how much of this reduction in car usage is due to the economic downturn, traffic restrictions in the city center and elimination of surface parking spaces.
On the subject of surface parking spaces, building segregated bike lanes is often used as a justification to eliminate them. These actions are presented as a disjunctive between cycling or parking; however, it is possible to provide cycling solutions without having to eliminate parking spaces. When the objective is to eliminate parking spaces (which has great social, environmental and urban benefits) we face a very different issue. Using cycling for this purpose creates detractors for this means of transportation unnecessarily, such as it happened a few years ago in Dílar Ave. in Granada. If the purpose is to reduce parking space, other mechanisms can be used which are beneficial to a larger number of citizens (and not just some cyclists) like for instance improving sidewalk accessibility, removing obstacles, widening them and outfitting them with trees and adequate equipment (Biciescuela Granada, Camina Granada, Ecologistas en Acción, enbicielectrica.com y La Biciclona, 2016).
As Reid (2013) says referring to the city of Stevenage: if it is convenient to travel by car, not even the best network of segregated bike lanes will prevent it. As a matter of fact, the cities where bicycles are used the most in Europe are not the ones where cars are used the least.
If the objective is to reduce car usage, it has been proven that the mechanism is to put obstacles directly to those advantages that encourage it: urban dispersion, large road infrastructure, parking… Therefore, one bicycle more does not equal to one car less. However, one car less can equal a pedestrian, a bike, a set of roller skates, a horse… more.
3. Is it safer to cycle around Seville?
The studies Efecto del carril bici sobre la accidentalidad ciclista en Sevilla (SIBUS, 2013) y Análisis sobre la movilidad ciclista en Sevilla 2015 (SIBUS, 2016) compare urban cycling accident data between before and after the segregated bike lane network was built. According to these documents, the segregated bike lanes have reduce the number of serious injuries and deaths.
However, the first of the studies, as an example, extracts conclusions after not even determining whether the cycling accidents before construction of the segregated bike lane network happened isolatedly or by collision against a different kind of vehicle. On the contrary, in the second study the two types of accidents appear disaggregated. Neither study shows the data essential for knowing the causes of collision between bicycles and other vehicles before the segregated bike lane network was built. Logically, it is not possible to know whether such collisions could have been avoided if the cyclist had been riding along a bike path. It is unknown:
- Where did the accident happen? Was the cyclist on the road or on the sidewalk? Was it in an intersection or not?
- Where was the cyclist positioned? On the right margin of the road or on the center of the lane?
- Was it at night? Did the cyclist have lights?
- Did anyone not respect the traffic signs?
For all of the above we can state that the study done by SIBUS does not have enough information to affirm that Seville’s network of segregated bike lanes has avoided the accidents that used to happen before its construction, because with the provided data we cannot know what happened, where the bicycle was travelling, or what the actors implicated on the accidents were doing.
Mulvaney et al. (2015), after a recent and vast bibliography revision of research performed in different countries about safety of cycling infrastructure, affirm that there is no evidence showing that bike lanes are effective for avoiding collisions. Therefore, we cannot say that building a network of segregated bike lanes increases cyclists’ safety. In fact, Alves (2006) puts together many investigations performed in multiple countries which show that the collision probability is between 1.8 and 4 times larger in intersections when riding on a segregated bike lane than when riding on the shared road. Intersection in Seville’s bidirectional segregated bike lanes are even more risky for cyclists riding in the opposite direction: according to the studies mentioned above, their collision probability is between 4.5 and 11.9 times larger than if they were riding on the road. Traffic-light regulated intersections in Seville have avoided such increase in collision risk because the cyclist is forced to walk as a pedestrian, thus reducing cycling potential as a means of transportation.
“It is hard to imagine that our cycling network could be rebuilt. But in countries and cities that are now beginning to build them, bidirectional bike lanes shall be avoided in urban areas”. (Pasanen, 2001).
In this sense, handbooks and design recommendations for bike lanes in Spain and its regions, and in multiple countries, admit that bidirectional segregated bike lanes cause more risks in intersections. Therefore, and given that in urban roads crossings are very frequent, they advice against building this kind of lanes in urban areas (Sanz, Pérez y Fernández, 1996; DGT, 2000; Julien, 2000; CERTU, 2000; Sanz, 2006; CROW, 2007; Cañavate y Ruiz, 2008; Nadal, Tomàs y Dombriz, 2008; Andersen et al., 2012; NACTO, 2014; Sanz y González, 2015; Pardo y Sanz, 2016). Moreover, bidirectional segregated bike lanes in urban areas “tend to encourage a pedestrian logic in the cyclist, taking him away from the normal traffic logic” (Sanz, 2009, p. 56). This makes those cyclists riding in the opposite direction to invade pedestrian spaces to turn into cross streets on the other side of the road, to access the bike lane and to exit it.
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