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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Castellón: An Urban Example

Basílica del Lledó

Castellón (or Castelló de la Plana in Valenciano) is a mere 70 minutes north of Valencia on the cercanía, or local train. I’ve passed by it a couple of times by train but I wasn’t able to see anything because the rail lines are underground through the city. One of my Spanish friends is from there and we have talked about this city of about 100,000 inhabitants on many occasions. He praises Castellón for its progressive approach to transit issues and he has been bugging me to take a look for myself. I finally made it up there this weekend.

I rode my bike to Valencia’s Estación del Norte and arrived at about 10:05 this morning. I bought my round-trip ticket in one of the machines (9€) and found the train waiting on track #1. There are trains every hour to Castellón on weekends and 40 a day during the week. Spanish trains are incredibly efficient. I am reminded of this every time I'm on a train.

You are allowed to take bikes on the cercanías and I have on several occasions but this time I played it smart and brought along something to secure my bike so I wouldn’t have to hold it the entire way. I brought a bunch of climbing gear with me from Seattle even though I haven’t used any of it yet and I doubt I will. I knew I had a short length of thin-gauge climbing rope somewhere amongst all of the other shit like my harness, an assortment of carabiners, etc. I had some sort of device used for locking your harness to a piece.  It is adjustable, strong, and easy to use. It has a carabiner on one end and I knew this was exactly what I was looking for. I just wrapped it around my bike, attached the carabiner to the overhead hand rail, and tightened it. My bike was perfectly secured instead of being a safety hazard for everyone in the car.

The trip was uneventful but I did notice a cool mountain top fortress at Almenara that I want to check out sometime soon.  The Castellón station is modern and looks more like an airport than the usual stately structures of most European stations but it’s clean and efficient. Castellón has had a bike sharing system for a few years now and of course there is a station directly in front of the station. The entire downtown area is what they call a Zona 30 which means the speed limit is only 30 kph (18.6 mph) to encourage more cycling. Most of the city center is off-limits to all vehicles except for residents so the streets are extremely pleasant for pedestrians. It really is a beautiful city. I would compare it to Portland as far as modernity and the overall progressive nature of the urban planning.

The sad truth is that most American communities pale in comparison to Castellón.  The strength of Spain’s middle class is readily apparent everywhere you look. You can’t differentiate between a good neighborhood and a bad one. Even in a country with unemployment stagnating at 20% people look to be enjoying their lives. The parks were filled to capacity on this cool November day as well as the street cafés. I happen to think that the unemployment figures here don’t accurately measure the human condition because many people work off-the-books and therefore aren’t included in statistics. Many other people are out of work but still live at home and are cared for by family. The Spanish doesn’t look nearly as miserable as the average crowd at any American Wal-Mart. In fact, they don't look at all miserable, completely the opposite.

What pisses me off the most about the American Right is their absolute refusal to even consider other societies when looking for ways to improve life in America. A recent candidate for governor of Colorado called Denver’s bike program a United Nation’s plot that “could threaten our personal freedoms.” Our freedoms to spend $4 a gallon on gas? Our freedom to make our Arab enemies the richest states in the world? I’m not sure what he meant but you get the idea. Trains are also some sort of communist plot to conservatives in America. This comes at a time when European countries are falling over each other to improve their networks of high-speed rail. Valencia will be joined in December to Madrid by the AVE (Alta Velocidad) line which will shorten the three hour and twenty minute trip to an hour and a half.Americans scream bloody murder whenever a dime is spent on AMTRAK. It's called infrastructure, you fucking Republican morons and without it you can't have a society.

Update:Valencia has just recently declared the historic center of Carmen to be a Zona 30 as well. Police also limit vehicular traffic in the city center on weekends.  Valencia is changing rapidly for the better but is still behind Castellón.  Keep trying, Valencia!


  1. I need to get back on my bike, someday.....

  2. Everyone needs to get back on their bike...today!


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