Sunday, October 7, 2007

Bicing, bicycling and the law in Barcelona

Barcelona recently updated it's law concerning the flow of traffic -- motor, two wheel and pedestrian. A few of the major aspects of the law that effect bicyclers are: being allowed to ride in the middle of a lane, having to stop at red lights, not being allowed to use lanes reserved for buses and taxis, being prohibited from riding on pedestrian sidewalks smaller than five meters wide, having to use bike lanes when they are physically separated from the street (if they are not physically separate, then it's optional) and having to have functional bells and lights.

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I think many people believe the law is an improvement over what existed before, but there are still many concerns. One of mine is not being allowed to use the bus/taxi lane. On a street like Via Laietana that means having to ride in the middle lane, with taxis and buses whooshing by to your right and passenger vehicles and trucks zooming by on your left. It's a little nerve racking!
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Then there is the fact that the bikes available through the Bicing public transportation program often have bells and lights that are missing or broken. I mentioned that to a Bicing staff person the other day and the response was, "Don't worry, the police won't fine Bicing users for that. They understand that it's not your fault." OK, but what about the reason for requiring lights and bells -- safety!
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Anyway, below is my translation of parts of a report about some of these issues from today's El Pais. The article was drawn from a reporter's one hour observations of a busy Barcelona intersection.
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"Motorcycles, cars, parking, driving, unloading, walking... Some of everything can be found in the C/ Consell de Cent bike lane between C/ Pau Claris and C/ Roger de Llúria. Last Tuesday between 11.30am and 12.30pm saw the frantic business day activity of every kind of vehicle, including bicycles - the only ones that, in theory, should be using the bike lane -, and often causing them to leave the lane in order to negotiate obstacles in the shape of parked vehicles. In the hour observed, it was not only motor vehicles that violated the traffic code, but also cyclists who did not respect the ordinance -- red lights were run and sidewalks less than 5 meters wide were ridden on.
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In one hour the balance of bike lane infractions was as follows: 14 vehicles parked in the bike lane, 3 taxis dropped off and collected passengers, a large number of motorcycles (too many to count) drove along and 12 motorcycles stopped for the light inside the bike lane. Violations by bicyclists were: four bicycles ran the light, four others rode circulated along the sidewalk. And a pedestrian also decided to walk along the lane. By type of vehicle, the results were: 29 of motor vehicles invaded the bike lane, 9 bicycles violated the ordinance and one pedestrian walked in bike lane.
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During that 60 minute period, only one police officer came by -- one of those who patrols on a bicycle. He gave a warning to a bicyclist who was riding along the sidewalk and ticketed a car parked in the bike lane.
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The biggest danger occurred when more than one van or car was parked, causing cyclists to zigzag continuously and dangerously. A total of 33 bicycles had to leave the lane to avoid parked vehicles, with all the danger this involved. Actually, more than a few opted to stop and wait to exit the bike lane until no cars or motorcycles were coming.
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The number of infractions counted by this newspaper in an hour along one city block demonstrates that vehicles do not respect the bike lane and invade it constantly, putting cyclists at risk. And it also it provide evidence that reality far surpasses official figures. According to data provided by the Guardia Urbana, between January and September of this year -before the new ordinance took effect - the following infractions were reported: 1,295 for parking in a bike lane, 15 for stopping in a bike lane, 1,674 for driving in a bike on a motorcycle, 493 for driving in a bike lane on a moped, and 34 for driving in a bike lane in a four wheels. This newspaper requested from Barcelona City Hall the number tickets issued for the same infractions since the application of the ordinance, but received no response. Lacking concrete data, the Bicycle Club of Catalonia (BACC) believes that the ordinance is being applied to bicyclists above all.
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"The most frequent bike infraction is running a red light. But the same zeal is not seen in sanctioning vehicles that invade bike lanes", stresses Diana González.
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This worries cyclist organizations because of the growth of users of this means of transportation due to the appearance of the Bicing program. Before Bicing's establishment, there were some 40,000 bicycle trips each week day in Barcelona. Now there are more than 70,000."
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And I'll close by adding that that number is sure to keep growing.
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If you'd like to read the complete article in the original Spanish, click here.
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Hasta luego amig@s,
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Carloz

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