On your bike!

When you live in a city, you begin to feel some kind of ownership over, and loyalty to it, as I've mentioned before on this blog. You rejoice when it triumphs, and feel downheartened when it has a bad day. In my last blog post, I wrote about Malaga's next big art museum, opening next month. It's exciting for Andalucia to have been chosen by the supremely powerful and influential powerful art collector Carmen Cervera (one of the world's top five, apparently) as home to her next museum (called the Museo Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza). But I can't help feeling sad that the honour didn't go to my adopted home city, Seville. So today I'm rebalancing the situation by telling you about Velocity. This is a major international cycling conference, organised by the European Cyclists' Federation, which is taking place here in Sevilla from 23-25 March. It will features presentations, workshops and round-tables, focusing on four main areas: the bike as a healthy means of transport, intended to change cities and improve their inhabitants' quality of life; educating people about mobility habits, and trying to change them; efficient public investment and how it can contribute to sustainable transport; and how bicycle use can enhance the economy and social wellbeing in general. Just four short years ago, Seville had no cycle lanes. Now it has 120km of them, all over the city, and 2,500 bikes to use at 250 points, which are used 25,000 times daily. SEVici, as the service is known, has been a sure-fire success, one of the more positive legacies of the outgoing mayor, Alfredo Sanchez Monteseirin. The number of bike users has increased ten-fold, from 6,000 to 60,000 - some sources even claim that 80,000 Seville residents now use their bike to get to work, with 6.6% of total journeys being taken by cycle. Apparently, an astonishing 34% have changed their car for a bike to make their daily commute. There are around 25,000 uses per day, the highest use of all the 63 city bike rental systems in use around the world. For all these reasons - massive infrastructure redevelopment, major investment and hugely successful take-up - Seville was chosen as the venue for the conference. But this service isn't just for residents of Seville, it's also handy for tourists - what better way is there to see a city than to explore it at your own pace, and under your own steam, using safe cycle lanes, stopping where and when you want? The minimum pass length is one week, but you do have to pay a (returnable) 150 euro deposit. I'm told that there are problems with the system - full bike stands (so you can't leave one), empty bike stands (none to use), vandalised bikes - but by and large, it seems to be an excellent, environmentally-friendly way to get around the city. You can check on the SEVici website how many bikes and bike stands are currently available at each station - very handy, especially since many of us now use mobile internet, both at home and abroad. You can therefore check ahead while you're out and about, to see if we can leave or collect a bike at a particular station. The conference sounds like an important platform for discussing key issues like the environment, transport, health, city planning, and 21-century urban wellbeing. Let's hope that Spain's cycling capital does itself justice as the host of such a topical and positive event. It's in Spanish and English, too. Perfect.
Blog published on 14 February 2011