I recently read about the way a network of protected bike lanes was
built in Seville (or Sevilla), Andalusia, Spain. The story was on Streets
Blog USA, and it was a report of the Places for Bikes
conference in May 2018. Manuel Calvo, a consultant who was
instrumental in planning Seville's bike lane network, spoke at the
Building Seville's bike network: speed
In Harrogate, when a key signpost was missing on a bike route to
the Yorkshire Showground, it took about two years of polite emails
and phone calls to the relevant department at North Yorkshire County
Council before the sign was put in place.
That will be the experience of many people involved in cajoling
local authorities to improve cycle infrastructure: it takes weeks,
months, years, or decades to achieve small gains.
Perhaps the most striking and inspiring thing about the case of
Seville is the speed with which a comprehensive network of quality,
protected bike lanes was built.
According to Streets Blog USA, Seville's adventure began with a
poll in 2006, in which 90% of respondents answered 'yes' to the
question 'do you think cycling infrastructure would be good for
After the poll, Manuel Calvo was told that the entire 80-km network
should be built within 18 months. Cycling improvements can be done
quickly, and then they are concrete achievements that politicians
can point to when the next election comes around. Calvo says that
delivering bike projects in the first two years of office is 'what I
advise to all the local governments. It starts working, and then
people see that it works, and then people are supportive of what you
Building Seville's bike network: political will
Clearly, it needs an elected politician to have the will to get it
done. That was the case when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London,
towards the end of his time in that role. If he had started earlier,
he might have achieved a lot more. By contrast, Sadiq Khan's mayoral
term has so far been notable for dithering and delay on cycle lanes.
One of the reasons that political will is important is because
building cycle lanes won't be popular with everyone, until they see
the results. (A few people will continue to hate the idea even when
it's a success). Trying to keep absolutely everyone happy is
impossible, and a recipe for doing nothing at all.
5,000 car parking spaces were removed in Seville (which, to put
that in perspective, is a city of 700,000 people). The figure wasn't
publicised while the lanes were being built.
Head of the city's Urban Improvement department, José Garcia,
didn't ignore public feedback, but set the expectation that
consultation was about how to add bike lanes to a street,
not whether to add them.
Calvo: 'In mobility issues, my experience is that consensus is
impossible, because there are so many interests. So you have to make
an agreement with most of the people. But taking account -
being clear - that something is being done.'
The bike network proved hugely popular, and was a relative bargain.
€32 million would buy perhaps 5 or 6km of road, and for that sum,
Seville got a bike network serving 70,000 trips a day. That compares
with an €800 million metro line on which 44,000 trips are made per
Building Seville's bike network: 'legible' cycle lanes
One thing that's notable from the photos in the Streets Blog is the
quality of the bike lanes. They are dedicated to bikes (not shared
with pedestrians) physically protected from traffic, and they have
continuity (rather than giving way to drives and side roads).
Another virtue of Seville's bike network is that it is 'legible',
according to a People
for Bikes article. That means that it's homogeneous and
recognisable, because it's all painted green. (The People for Bikes
article has some good 'before and after' photos, showing how spaces
on particular roads were transformed).
That's a lesson Chris Boardman has learned, and in his work as
Walking & Cycling Commissioner in Manchester, he's implementing
a 'legible' system of routes with his Beelines branding.
Let's hope that more towns and cities in the UK will realise that
cycling improvements don't have to be made in tiny, incremental
steps over decades. Making a plan, and implementing it in months or
a couple of years, can be popular with most residents, good value
for money, and have a transformative effect on quality of life.