updated - 31st January 2015
Guardian 29th January 2015

Manuel Calvo bumps his Brompton folding bike along the last few metres of a quiet cobbled street in Seville’s old town, then though a narrow passage and on to a broad ring-road encircling the district. Suddenly, several lanes of cars and buses are zipping past, but Calvo pays no heed – we are on a smooth, green-tarmaced bike lane, separated from motor traffic by both a raised kerb and a waist-high fence.“Here we are,” says Calvo, pedalling unhurriedly along the network he played a key role in designing. “I’d do a few things differently next time, maybe try and make the lanes a bit wider. But they work. People use them.”

And people do, in large numbers. They do so to such an extent that Seville, the capital of Andalucia in the far south of Spain, has become something of an unlikely poster city for sustainable transport. It is, proponents say, living proof that more or less any urban area can get lots of people on the bikes by the relatively straightforward means of building enough connected, safe lanes on which they can ride.

Such has been Seville’s success – the number of bike trips multiplied 11-fold in a few years – that municipal officials have just started extending the model to other cities in the region. Seville now has 75 miles of segregated lanes, with other routes radiating out from the loop around the old town. It also has a municipal bike hire scheme, like those in Paris and London, called SEVici, with 2,500 bikes and 250 docking stations.

Unlike the Netherlands and Denmark, the usual European exemplars of mass cycling, Spain remains far from a paradise for the two-wheeled. According to EU statistics a mere 1.6% of Spaniards nominate the bike as their main mode of transport, even less than in the UK. Almost half say it is a car.

For many years Seville had only about 0.5% of journeys made by bike, with roads choked by four rush hours a day, due to the Spanish tradition/habit of Siesta. Now, although is not at Dutch or Danish levels of cycling, but net result is nonetheless impressive. The average number of bikes used daily in the city rose from just over 6,000 to more than 70,000. The last audit, about a year ago, found 6% of all trips were made by bike, rising to 9% for non-commuter journeys. Cyclists are active, and Seville shows they can be tempted out, even in a city which, while flat, has almost no cycling culture and a far from ideal summer climate, with temperatures hitting 40C. If you build the right bike lanes, it appears, people will want to use them.

It’s an unusual tale, marked by the right people being around at the right time, as well as an amount of luck. A small group of cycle campaigners spent years vainly pushing for change, among them Ricardo Marques Sillero, who recalls first arguing for bike lanes in 1992. “I’ve been doing this so long my hair was a completely different colour when I started,” the silver-thatched university academic says. His campaign eventually gained support from the United Left (IU), a political alliance led by the Communist party. In 2003 elections the UI won enough council seats to jointly govern with the Socialists, and managed to get the cycling plans in the coalition agreement.

Empowered by the new administration, Seville’s head of urban planning, José Garcia Cebrián, himself a long-time cyclist, set to work. He hired Calvo, who describes himself as sustainable mobility consultant, to design a hugely ambitious network of completely segregated lanes, a full 80km (50 miles) of which would be completed in one go. Segregation – separating bikes by a physical barrier like a raised kerb or fence – is something of a holy grail for campaigners, who argue it makes cycling accessible to people of all ages, allowing them to trundle along at slow speeds in everyday clothes. This is in contrast to the scene in most UK cities, where mainly young, generally male riders speed alongside motor traffic dressed in helmets and luminous high-vis jackets.

But segregation necessarily involves removing space from another group, usually motorists. In London, even a mayor with the political clout of Boris Johnson is currently struggling to push through plans for a pair of new bike routes against fierce opposition from business and driving lobbies.

In Seville one of the paradoxical reasons for the success of the bike lane project was that so few people believed it would happen at all.

“In Spain there’s been a lot of planning about cycling, but then the plans get put into a drawer,” Cebrián says. “So there was no opposition during the planning process, as everyone thought the same thing would happen. The opposition only started when the infrastructure was being built, and by then there was no way back.” In fact, so surprised were some of Cebrián’s Seville council colleagues when the work did start that on the first day officials from the transport department, separate from his urban planning section, tried in vain to get the construction crews to halt. They didn’t, and the demand for the network soon became clear. Even before lanes were finished some cyclists squeezed between fences to use them, an unlucky few crashing into barriers marking the end of completed sections while riding at night.

Cebrián says he was always confident the lanes would be well used: “I’d spent many years riding round the city and looking at it with a cyclist’s eye.

“As soon as the building work was finishing and the fences were removed the cyclists just came. The head of the building team, who’d been very sceptical about the process, called me and said, ‘Where have all those cyclists come from?’ That’s when I knew for sure it was going to work. The came from all over the city.”

The completed lanes are narrower than a Dutch cyclist might expect, and occupy what space they can, with riders very occasionally having to steer around a small tree or other obstacle. They also run along just one side of the road, making the lanes two-way. While this was the product of necessity, Calvo says he now likes this: “I think it makes people ride a bit more slowly and carefully.” These are no UK-style traffic-battling gladiators. Seville cyclists mainly ride upright old clunkers in everyday clothes

When the paths meet a road junction they curve gently on to a controlled crossing where, officially, cyclists are supposed to wait for a green bike symbol. In practise most pedal across if the way is clear, Calvo among them. nHowever, unlike London’s much criticised “cycle superhighways” – where riders are protected by little more than blue paint – Seville’s cyclists enjoy a kerb and a fence. Much of the space, Calvo says, was actually taken from bus or parking lanes but the kerb was raised to pavement level to offer more protection. He adds: “This also made it harder to give the space back to cars if a new government changed their minds.”

With this transport sea-change has come notably lower pollution levels and a more human-friendly environment. The lanes are also designed for wheelchair users. “We suddenly made a lot of the city easily accessible,” Calvo says with pride.

A tour around the network reveals fewer cyclists than normal, mainly due to what is, for local standards, something of a cold snap (it is sunny and 11C, a temperature at which Sevillans seemingly require down jackets, thick gloves and hats).

But plenty of cyclists are out and what is noticeable to a British eye is both their variety and the ordinariness. The variety comes from the riders themselves – a seemingly equal gender split, with ages going from children to people well into their 70s.

The ordinariness comes in their approach. These are not the UK-style traffic-battling gladiators. Seville’s cyclists mainly ride upright old clunkers and wear everyday clothes. Helmets are almost never seen, even among under-16s, despite a new, if loosely enforced, Spanish law compelling this group to wear them.

The overall sense is of cycling not as a pursuit, or a sport but, in the Dutch style, a deeply everyday activity, little more than a more efficient means of walking.

It is additionally trying to link cycling with public transport. Passengers arriving at the city’s main bus station can use their ticket to borrow one of nearly 200 separate rental bikes, free for the whole day. The city’s university has yet another scheme, in which students are provided with bikes for the academic year.

Seville’s cycling project is now at a new metaphorical crossroads, facing big decisions on how, and if, it can be augmented by policies which don’t just promote cycling but make driving less convenient, a politically difficult decision in a place where the car still dominates. The current right-wing city administration has reversed previously imposed parking restrictions in the old town, meaning the cobbled streets are often choked with cars. They are also not keen on traffic-calming measures in other residential areas. Cebrián is aware that Seville’s cycling has reached something of a plateau: “There’s lots more things that could be done, and which were on the cycling masterplan, but just haven’t been done yet.”

And yet at the same time, Seville’s vision is being exported. Cebrián, who trundles around the bike lanes he helped devise on a sturdy, Swedish-made Pilen bike, has moved from the city hall to the offices of the regional government, where he is overseeing the grandly titled Plan Andaluz de Bicicleta. Under this, every city in Andalucia with more than 100,000 people has signed up to build segregated lanes (“Apart from Jaén,” notes Cebrián of the municipality north of Granada. “Because they’re really old-fashioned.”) Early building work has started in three places, Jerez, Algeciras and Almería.

Back in Seville the effects are arguably greater than the 6% cycling share would indicate. For instance, there has been a small but appreciable mini-boom in a bike-related economy, a particular benefit in a city with an unemployment rate of about 30%. Before the lanes were built, Calvo says, Seville had about 10 bikes shops. Now it has around 50. One shop in the old town, Santa Cleta, which lends me the bike on which I follow Calvo, runs courses for unemployed locals to become trained cycle mechanics. Other fledgling industries have begun, including electrically assisted cargo bikes which trundle through the old town, delivering goods which used to be carried in vans.

The effect is also being felt in Seville’s vital tourism industry. On Tripadvisor, the traveller-recommended rankings of attractions and activities in the city are littered with bike tours.

One of the anomalies of Seville’s success is how few other Spanish cities have sought to copy it. Other places have built bike lanes, notably Barcelona, but these are not fully segregated and the cycling share remains lower. “We’ve had more visitors from the rest of Europe looking at what we’ve done than we have had from Spain,” says Calvo. But the main lesson seems clear. In a continent where policymakers are struggling to tackle a public health disaster caused by inactivity, which a study this month said kills almost 700,000 Europeans every year, active travel is seen as a key part of this.

GO TO (click on the hyperlink dates to move to the report)

Saturday 30thAugust 2014     Thursday 28thAugust 2014    

Saturday 30th August

On a rather overcast but reasonably warm Saturday morning, seven of us, including a new member on his first ride with the group, met at Nuneaton Library for our weekly Saturday cycling spree. Our ride leader, however, wouldn’t say where we were going for the ride but instead gave us all the following rhyming riddle:-

A fairly easy route is the order of the day,

through parks and along the canal as we wend our way.

Across some fields and around factory estates.

sometimes having to negotiate those blooming gates.

An urban ride is what we’ll find,

but no hills on route……….. so I’m being kind.

However, please don’t go fishing for our tea or coffee stop

As then back home is only a short little hop?

Rather intrigued, with some perhaps a little perplexed, (and some totally oblivious!- ed.) we set off, and as it said, through the park, past the Pingles and onto the canal at Triton Rd. We eventually departed the canal at Marston Lane and wound our way up Furnace Road and through various other estate roads until we reached the Rye Piece Ringway and made our way into Bedworth Park. After cycling through the park we made our way towards the path leading onto Bayton Rd industrial estate where we came across one of the most awkward and difficult kissing gates that seem to proliferate around the area. Some of the group really struggled to get through this gate as it narrowed considerably at the one end not allowing enough room to manoeuvre a bike. Carrying on we made our way around the bottom part of Bayton Road, which was thankfully quite quiet this Saturday morning, before turning into Stephenson Rd and taking the path under the railway. From here we followed a single file track across the field (as per the rhyme) leading out onto Blackhorse Rd across the canal bridge and headed towards Longford. At this point we left the urban roads and enjoyed the cycle path through Longford Park, and more gates to negotiate, before turning right onto Sledmere Close and then left for a short distance on Aldermans Green Rd. Once again we turned off the roads and made our way through Wyken Slough, including gates, onto Eburne Rd, through Aldermans Green industrial estate, then turning left and immediately right onto Ringwood Highway. Left at the “T” junction took us along Woodway Lane, were we dismounted our bikes, through the last of the gates and walked up the footbridge and over the quite noisy M6. Everyone was still quite intrigued as to where we were heading but the ride leader was giving nothing away and just said the clue is in the rhyme. Anyway once over the bridge we carried on cycling through Sowe Common Sports Ground, then onto Lentons lane, eventually turning right onto the B4109 heading towards Bulkington. All of us were still in good spirits (?) but very much looking forward to refreshment stop and the usual cries of “are we nearly there yet?” did get banded around. “Only about another mile or so” was the reply and so on we cycled into Bulkington and back out again, over the railway bridge, heading towards Bedworth. At last we reached our destination for the morning as we turned into Weston Lawns Fisheries, as per the clue “don’t go fishing for our tea or coffee stop”. Grateful we had at last reached our objective, we sat outside thoroughly enjoying bacon butties and free top-ups of tea and coffee. After sitting for a while watching the antics of the chickens and the herding of the geese and just before we set of home, all agreed that, although the ride leader had kept us guessing, we had all had a very enjoyable and interesting Saturday morning cycle ride.

Thursday 28th August 2014
This weeks start meeting place was the restaurant with in Morrison's store at Hinckley. Our numbers gradually grewing to approximately fifteen. However not every one was intending to ride while three or four planned to take a shorter route to our intended lunch stop at Orton on the Hill).
The earlier morning rain had passed well before our meeting time and starting just after 11:00am we set off via Stoke Golding to Dadlington. Taking Sutton Lane from Dadlington we were soon crossing the Ashby Canal at Sutton Wharf and up the slight incline into the village. Turning left before the church we arrived at the gated back lane to Market Bosworth and a sign telling us the road was closed. However being cyclists we ignored this as usual (must be a cyclist thing).
We went for quite a way on this road with out any indication of works being carried out and had just commented to this fact before being brought to a halt by maintenance vehicles which completely blocked the road. However being cyclists we could dismount and walk round which we did (can't do that with a car).
After regrouping at the Market Bosworth square we made a sharp exit as we had all congregated at the bus stop and a bus arrived! Taking the Barton Road out of Bosworth we enjoyed the long down hill and then the long uphill to Carlton passing yet more new house building adjacent to the Gate Inn. Carrying straight though Carlton and on to Barton on The Beans passing Betty's Tea Rooms “as was” and carried on as far as the hamlet of Odstone where we joined the cycle way and turned right for Ibstock.
After crossing the A447 we followed The Overton Lane cycle route into Ibstock with a couple of riders having to employ their cycling skills to keep up right at the sharp right turn with loose grave at the bottom of the hill and the small ford which was a bit slippery on the concrete bottom. Arriving at the end of Ibstock (village?) High Street we recrossed the A447 and left via Station Road and rejoined the cycle route at Heather.
Being now on the return run we were into the strongish breeze which had not been noticed on the way out as it had been following us. We followed the cycle route back as far as Congerstone passing through Shackerstone before turning off for Little Twycross and Twycross. Joining the A444 briefly and leaving at the up market refurbished Turpin Inn we were on the final couple of miles to Orton on the Hill and the “Unicorn” where we were booked in for lunch, arriving at 1-00pm as planned.
Here we lost a few and gained a few riders. Some leaving direct for home and some already comfortability seated inside having taken the shorter ride option. Our numbers were increased still further when Gill and Norman belatedly arrived direct from home.The pub was busy and the noise reduced considerably once the meals started to arrive.
For the “light bite” menu options generally selected its a wonder any body could ride home as the food was very good value and quality. Especially those who went for the “spotted dick and custard” desert. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
On re-emerging out side the clouds had increased considerably and rain threatened and arrived on our various routes home but was not sustained and I was about dry again by the time I got home.

Another good day.