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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Cities, Bikes, & the Future

I live in the heart of a major Spanish city with a population of something like 800,000. If I had to be specific I would say that my apartment is closer to the northeast side of Valencia, yet it takes me less than ten minutes to pedal to the southwest side of the city when I ride to the Albufera nature reserve. There are no suburbs amended to Spanish cities. The change from city to country is rather abrupt. You go from eight story apartment buildings to open fields. The population density of the city means that this many people take up very little room when compared to cities with a lot of single family homes. Many American cities with one tenth the population of Valencia cover a land area ten times larger.

The dense urban climate is more suitable to my tastes; it’s much like where I lived in Seattle. I love the fact that I can get on my bike, follow the bike path down to the Turia Gardens park, take that bike path to the other end of the Ciencias complex, get on yet another bike path, and I’m out of the city limits, as I said, all in about ten minutes.

It is Semana Santa so everyone else in Valencia is trying to get out of town, but most of them in automobiles. I was able to make better time on my bike yesterday than all of those people stuck in traffic on the southern flank of the city. The weather has been a little less than ideal so there wasn’t the usual horde of cyclists along this route. I was going to say that the new bike trail is complete but it is an ongoing project with a lot still in the works. I can say that the new bike bridge is complete, and a whole new section is now open that used to be one of the more perilous parts of my route south to the Albufera.

Bikes are very popular here but not as popular as they are in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Zurich, or even Barcelona, not yet, anyway. It is obvious that Valencia is rapidly making room for bicycles in their future. There is no down side to bicycles. They are clean, efficient, safe, and promote fitness. Not including bikes in your urban transportation model is not just short-sighted, it’s incredibly irresponsible.

Valencia and other metro areas in the province have begun a new program that is popular in other European cities. Bicycles are provided for commuters at kiosks around the city. They are not up-and-running yet here, but from what I have read about them you will be issued an identity card like at the library which will allow you to borrow a bicycle from a station and then return it at another station. So you can get off a bus or train, or park your car in a lot, and then complete your commute on a bike. It is a fairly simple an inexpensive solution to at least a fraction of the transportation problem all cities face.
The density of urban areas like Valencia make bicycle commuting extremely attractive because the distances to travel are fairly modest—even from one end of the city to the other. I couldn’t imagine traveling by automobile in Valencia. I would lose my mind trying to find a parking spot. Lots of people do rely on cars to get around here, but bikes are starting to get folded into the transportation mix. You can tell that bikes are relatively new because they are used mostly by younger people. In Amsterdam you see people of all ages pedaling around town and they all look good doing it.

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