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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Getting Around

Just about everything that I have seen so far in Barcelona is right off of the L3 green metro line including where I am staying in the Gracia district. I have used other lines but I haven’t really needed them as most of the historic center of Barcelona is on the L3. I haven’t had to wait more than 3.5 minutes for a train and they run all night on weekends. The buses seem to fill in any holes there may be in the metro although when you look at the complicated metro map, there doesn’t seem to be any holes. There are so many lines that the map is almost impossible to read.

Some of the metro stations are so cavernous and the passageways so lengthy that I try to avoid them. If you enter the Plaza Catalunya station at the wrong point you may end up walking farther underground than if you had just walked to your destination. There is one passageway that is at least 200 meters longs.

The Barcelona Metro is fast and efficient, incredibly so. The 10 ride card I bought for 6.90€ can also be used on the buses. I don’t understand why so many people drive cars in this city. The car drivers are actually very courteous and respectful of pedestrians. There are also lots and lots of motor scooters and although I wouldn’t go so far as to call them courteous, the drivers aren’t nearly as obnoxious as they are in Valencia. From the looks of things, parking is every bit as much of a nightmare as it is in any major city.

I think this is where cities are failing, they need to make less parking and not more, to encourage people to abandon this unsustainable transportation mode. I noticed this when I went to visit Camp Nou (pronounced Camp Now), the stadium that is home to the great Fútbol Club Barcelona. I came upon the stadium on the Northeast corner and wanted to go to the museum which is on the other side of the stadium.

I had to walk around the entire complex of the stadium which includes acres and acres of parking. The huge parking lots may make it convenient for a small fraction of the fans to drive to the games, but these dormant car parks isolate the pedestrians from the stadium and create huge detours if you are on foot. The stadium has plans to change all of this and it can’t happen soon enough. Valencia’s football stadium has almost no parking which means that it is integrated directly into the surrounding neighborhood. As I have mentioned before, there are dozens of bars outside the stadium that are so close to the action that you can hear the roar of the crowd during matches.

In the old section of Barcelona, called Ciutat Vella, there is almost no street parking at all. This is mostly true because the streets are so narrow that a car can barely fit between the buildings. There are a lot of underground parking garages and all new buildings in Barcelona, like in most cities, are required to have a set amount of parking spaces below ground. I think that a lot of people would be surprised to find how easy it is to live without a car, or at least to drive a lot less than they do. I haven’t driven an automobile in over a year now and it feels wonderful. I certainly don’t miss it.

Bikes are becoming more and more integrated into the transportation model of Barcelona. There are bike paths throughout the city that are marked as a special lane on the roads, unlike Valencia’s bike paths which are linked to the sidewalks so there is no mixing with traffic. I will write more on this after I spend the next two days renting a bike.

As much as I hate walking, I have done a hell of a lot of it this past week. In the old city you don’t have much choice except to walk as the streets are too narrow and too crowded to ride a bike. I have been forced, against my will, to rely on the oldest transportation method. Walking isn’t very sophisticated or sexy, and for me it certainly isn’t much fun, but you can get places this way.

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