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Friday, February 16, 2018

The Streets Where We Live

My street before the facelift.

I’ve only recently begun to explore the possibilities of the fantastic bus system in Valencia. Up until now I’ve effected almost all of my transportation by bicycle, which means that I have avoided certain pedestrian unfriendly streets in the city. These mainly consist of a few major thoroughfares that have lots of high-speed car traffic (often way over the legal limit) and where there is no safe place to ride a bike. Most of these same race tracks are also horrible places to walk as the sidewalks are barely adequate for two people to pass each other without one pedestrian being forced to turn sideways.

I ventured out last weekend to take the bus that passes directly in front of my building and circles the city in a sort of inner loop—my first time ever. I was extremely familiar with much of the route of this bus line as I follow it on my bike rides where there are bike paths. After living here for so long and spending so much time exploring on my bike I feel that I know the city better than most natives. I have a few gaps in my knowledge of Valencia because, as I said, I respect my health too much to venture in the areas where bikes are obviously very unwelcome.

It turns out that I haven’t missed anything by avoiding these streets because they are tremendously ugly and soul-crushing examples of what happens when a city places the automobile before humans. Until my little bus outing, I always felt that Valencia was an extremely beautiful city. It is. I was absolutely shocked by these pockets of inhumanity. It was like I had traveled to some bleak, Stalinist dystopia in the short bus ride from my home on a bright and palm-lined street. 

Only a few years ago the street where I live was one of these soulless areas fit only for automobile traffic. I remember thinking of this street as a sort of Berlin Wall that demarcated the outer limit of my neighborhood. As a cyclist or pedestrian, the street was extremely uninviting—hostile, even—and I would turn back and return to the relative refuge of the more tranquil areas where I didn’t feel I was being preyed upon by cars and trucks. 

Like much of my neighborhood, this street got a complete make-over beginning in 2008. The six lane racetrack became four lanes with a tree row in the median strip and a bike lane on one side. Traffic was tamed to legal speeds and the street became a much more inviting place for pedestrians, to say nothing of the aesthetic improvements (compare the two photographs and you decide).

Of course, like with any issue there are two sides. There are some who fight against anything they feel infringes upon the right of cars to travel at high speeds and without any hindrance from pesky human beings who might stumble into their pat. Leading that charge is one local newspaper’s war against pedestrians and cyclists. This is the same newspaper that complained that no one used the new city center bike ring which is completely laughable to anyone who rides on this path. This fucking rag’s war has been relentless as they fight against pedestrians, cyclists, sustainability, and the environment.

Luckily for the city, the forces of good are prevailing, at least for the moment. We have a new mayor who has been a bike commuter for years and is determined to make the city more livable while at the same time more beautiful. As an American I can say to the people of Valencia that I have witnessed first-hand the results of making the automobile the center of all urban planning and I wouldn’t recommend it.
My street today.

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