As Europe’s cities race towards climate neutrality, active travel will play a major role in their decarbonisation efforts. Many people may mention cities, such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Bruges, when it comes to the champions of pedal power; yet, municipalities across Europe are making major investments in cycling - and with incredible results. This is true for the host of Urban Mobility Days 2023, Seville. The Spanish city is rapidly expanding and enhancing its cycling infrastructure and services to encourage residents and visitors to opt for the bike.
At Urban Mobility Days, hosted by Seville from 4-6th October, the panel, 'Cycling into the Future', will address fundamental questions facing practitioners and policymakers, bringing together leading voices from across the sector to examine:
- What measures are the most effective to boost cycling in our cities?
- What are the infrastructure needs?
- How do we convince car drivers in cities that increasing the number of cyclists on the streets means less congestion and better road safety for all?
- What are the next steps?
Ahead of the European Commission’s flagship urban mobility conference, Eltis spoke to one panellist, Manuel Calvo Salazar, an independent consultant on eco-urbanism, sustainable mobility and transport and public space for active mobility. For over 10 years, Salazar has been working in several projects promoting cycling in Seville, supporting the city as an external consultant. So what has Seville been doing? Where is the city now? And what are its plans for the future?
What have been the major/ most important milestones Seville has achieved recently in regard to cycling?
First of all, the planning and building of what we called an 80 km-long basic network of cycling lanes that covered most of the city. This basic network was built in just two years and it was comfortable and convenient to use. In a second phase, 40 more km were added to complete a total of 120 km in just four years. As a result, cycling became a means of transport that is integrated in the mobility equation of the people at the same level as public transit, cars, or pedestrian trips. Cycling grew from around 0.5% of modal share to 6% from 2007 to 2011.
In 2017 a new cycling plan was approved by the Municipality, and it is being slowly implemented since then…maybe slower than it needed to achieve a further growing in cycling (reaching 15% of modal share as one of the major aims of the plan).
What have been the main challenges which Seville has faced in regard to cycling (climate, geography, cultures etc), and how have these been overcome or addressed?
These challenges are more political and strategic than technical. We have learned that political conflict happens every time that a change needs to be implemented and that is why consensus must be searched for, but in practise is rarely achieved.
From a technical point of view, promoting cycling needs very powerful actions on infrastructure in a first stage. The basic concepts for that are network AND fast building of this basic set of infrastructure covering most of the city. In that sense, promoting urban cycling in those first stages is a bet for all or nothing. After these actions have been achieved, broader actions on sustainable mobility must be implemented, such as reconfiguring public space in favour of active mobility, sensibly restricting car mobility.
Seville also has its own bike rental system. What have been some of the keys to its success?
Again, a very fast implementation (250 stations and 2,500 bikes) in just some months and also a philosophy centred in the concept of complementarity of this system to the infrastructure. By itself, a bike rental system is rarely successful if it does not complement a basic infrastructure.
Why will cycling be important for cities as they try to move away from car-centric mobility systems?
Because it is a very important part of active mobility. In my counts, if an urban mobility system must be sustainable, it needs to be centred mostly on active mobility (maybe 75% of the trips). This moves us to think that a reconfiguring of public space must be achieved, and cycling would help us to make this step, since the bike allows us to cover more distance in less time using human-powered machines. Cycling will also increase the range of public transit, especially in low density areas.
You work closely on urban planning and architecture too; how does our approach to urban planning need to change in order to support cycling?
We need to change the function of public space, now around 70% devoted to car traffic, to give that space to other uses, significantly growing the comfort of active mobility. This is much easier said than done, since it means we need to reconfigure not only architectural and urbanism techniques, but also planning procedures and the legal context. For example, in Spain it is usually difficult to implement traffic calming in our streets, since the traffic code and the road manuals make this hard (but not impossible) from a legal point of view.
What key advice would you give cities seeking to expand and enhance their cycling infrastructure and provision?
In a first step, and just to make cycling a reliable option not just for “cyclists” but also for “regular” people, it is essential to have a first basic NETWORK of infrastructure. This NETWORK must be put in place very fast, and it should be comfortable to use (homogeneous, direct (no detours), easy to understand, prioritised at the intersections, etc).
The network must be the initial goal. After that, all other policies regarding cycling must be put in place (parking, public rental systems, intermodality, communication and education, etc.). These cycling policies must also be a part a broader sustainable mobility strategy to make the car the less reliable way of moving around.
How do you feel the European level can - and should - support local authorities in developing better cycling infrastructure and services?
Funding, technical teaching, political support and communication and finally changing the legal context. For example, in Spain the legal norm is that free space for public car parking must be allocated in residential and commercial areas as an essential service, which must change if we are to make the transition needed to more sustainable travel.
What are you most looking forward to about Urban Mobility Days?
I am looking forward to sharing experiences and knowledge with people and having a debate space to spread these experiences and help and encourage politicians to make correct and brave decisions. We have no time to lose!
For more information and to register for Urban Mobility Days, see here.
To view the programme, see here.
Photo Credit: © essevu- no permission to re-use image(s) without separate licence from Shutterstock.