Guest Post Part 3 – Cycling in Madrid

This week, our roving guest blogger Robert has got himself to Spain’s capital city:

Madrid is located in the centre of Spain at an altitude of approximately 650m.  The central area undulates gently in a manner that could be compared with Auckland and most areas are accessible on a bike. Apart from the extreme heat in the months of July and August (up to 40 degrees ), Madrid boasts great weather for travelling by bike when compared with Christchurch, as it has considerably fewer days of rain and less of it overall: ditto the strength and frequency of wind. Madrid has a population of around 3.3 million people. It is the third largest city in the European Union and has the highest population density, just edging out London for the prize.

Ten years ago, this was a major and very noisy traffic junction; amazing what the removal of cars can do...
Ten years ago, this was a major and very noisy traffic junction; amazing what the removal of cars can do…

A quote from the website “Just Landed”:

Cycling in Madrid and other cities can be dangerous and isn’t recommended (if you cycle in cities, you should wear a smog mask, a crash helmet and a crucifix). In addition to the hazards of traffic and pollution in towns and cities, cyclists must contend with the often debilitating heat, interminable hills and poor roads in many areas.

People do ride bikes in Madrid despite this, particularly the young and the fearless. Central Madrid has been improved considerably for pedestrians during the period of the three visits I have had (1984, 2004 and 2014) The converting of streets to pedestrian areas and restricting the movement of cars in many of the narrow streets by the use of bollards has produced a very “walkable” city that is very popular with tourists. Tourist numbers however have fallen recently in Madrid because it has to compete rigorously with the other cities and attractions in Spain (the world’s fourth most visited country). The decision by the airport authority to double taxes resulted in two major budget airlines reducing services (an irrelevant yet interesting aside). The intense summer heat results in a large population decline as residents flock to the cooler coastal areas of Spain.

"Cycle Lane - 30km/h"
“Shared Cycle Lane – 30km/h”

There is an attempt to encourage cycling in Madrid, due in part to the fact that being on a bike is the fastest way to get around the central areas and will inevitably reduce congestion. The population density, and the fact that car ownership rates for those living in the centre are lower, means that many residents use public transport. The Madrid Metro punches way above its weight in terms of size and usage when compared with other cities.

A city bike-sharing scheme ‘BiciMAD’ began with mixed success at the beginning of July. E-bikes were chosen, apparently because there was concern that pushbikes would disproportionately be deposited at the stations at the bottom of the undulations and make redistribution more costly.  In my opinion, what will need to be addressed is how the streets and plazas are shared with the many pedestrians. The few bikes on the streets appeared to be tolerated very well by pedestrians and motorists alike but with numbers bound to increase, one cannot but wonder what the potential will be for conflict. Spain leads the world with 132 (!) bike-share schemes to date; Madrid has been tardy in its provision of such a service.

A new BiciMAD bike-station waits for some bikes to be installed
A new BiciMAD bike-station waits for some bikes to be installed
A separated cycle lane in central Madrid
A separated cycle lane in central Madrid

Some initiatives to improve access for those riding bikes were observed. The use of “sharrows” was considerable.  Bollards are prevalent for priority access for pedestrians and therefore, by default, cyclists.  On at least one of the major arterial roads through the city was a lane marking that allowed a cycle priority in one of up to three lanes. The speed limit in this lane was 30 km/h.   It appears that curtailing the traffic to a 30 km/h speed limit and expecting cars to travel that speed behind a cyclist has limited the success of this scheme.  I guess you could compare it with converting a lane along Brougham Street or Moorhouse Avenue to 30 km/h and expecting traffic and bikes to share amicably. Hardly likely.

Can Christchurch learn anything from Madrid?

Probably what Madrid can offer is to show the importance of creating a good experience for pedestrians. In turn, this will encourage those on bikes to be part of what is a really pleasant environment to linger. From a business perspective, it was clearly obvious that the streets full of pedestrians had much more interesting and vibrant retail businesses and restaurants, bars, etc; those on busy thoroughfares appeared less so. Equally important is having a good proportion of your population working and living in your central areas if you want to encourage more cycling for short trips.

Sharrows indicate a shared-use lane
Sharrows indicate a shared-use lane

What else can we learn from Madrid?

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