Urban Cycling in Barcelona and Beyond: An Interview with Jordi

Jordi - cycling in barcelona

Today I speak with Jordi from Copenhagenize Barcelona. We discuss raising levels of urban cycling in Barcelona and beyond. Jordi has dedicated his entire professional life around bicycle urbanism and architecture. He also founded a cargo bike company in Barcelona called Vanapedal seven years ago, and believes that cargo bikes are the revolution of the revolution and that they are the real example of what a bicycle can do for the citizens of this new age.


Kieran: What is the most effective way to raise levels of urban cycling?

Jordi: The most effective way to raise levels of urban cycling is making it the fastest, the safest and the easiest way to move from point A to point B. Also we know that cycling is the healthiest, the happiest and the cheapest way to move. We should keep in mind that the more cyclist there are, the better is the city in terms of air quality, low accidentality, and livability.

In particular, in my city Barcelona, we have a huge problem with all the motorbikes. Many people still think that they are a good solution to traffic congestion. Motorbikes are not being properly regulated by the city, so drivers can still enjoy some privileges like free parking on the side walks. Even if all the motorbikes became electric, there will still be a huge problem of accidents and unfair public space share.

I strongly believe that a good measure to increase the bicycle modal share in cities like mine, will be to reduce the motorbike modal share by making cycle a better and safer option. Don’t forget that motorbikes will never be an active mode of transportation.

Kieran: Is introducing a whole network of segregated lanes crucial, or is there a policy measure that can compete with this in terms of effect?

Jordi: Segregated lines are just one of the bicycle infrastructure options. If we learn best practices from the cities and countries that spent more than 100 years designing bicycle infrastructure, we see that segregated lines are convenient when the speed and number of motorized vehicles are high. When it’s below 30km/h it is better to share space with other modes of transportation and other uses of the public space.

Kieran:Is it a mixture of political measures and Infrastructure measures? Does it always need to be a combination?

Jordi: The political measures and others like education and communication campaigns should collaborate eachother and be coordinated with the bicycle infrastructure ones. So yes, it always needs to be a combination, but quality bicycle infrastructure is the key. Bicycle policies and design have to make cycling the most attractive way of transportation for the common benefit.

In the light of examples towns like Stevenage, where bike paths were built, but not used so much because it remained more convenient to drive, how important do you think it is to restrict car use?

The restriction of motorized modes of transportation is a measure that should be in parallel to the other measures that raise urban cycling. But cities have to be careful with restrictions to motorized vehicles.

In Milan for instance, where they implemented a congestion charge in the center that reduced a lot of cars, they ran into a motorbikes use increase, because they don’t pay.

Do you think it’s necessary to ‘wage war on the motorist’ in order to achieve dominance for the bicycle?
E.g. by subsidising the cost of motoring, creating car-free areas etc?

I don’t like any kind of war. Bicycle are silent, peaceful and great. They are not violent, they are beauty useful art inventions that potentiate our humans bodies in terms of physical, sensory, psychological and social experiences. It’s is not always necessary to fight, just make it the best option for the benefit of everyone. It could mean to create motorized-free areas and a lot of things more but don’t make the bicycle guilty of making people change because people can thrive because of bicycles even if they don’t use them directly.

My friend and colleague Steven Fleming says that there are a lot of opportunities to find “cycle spaces” in our cities that are not colonized by cars, e.g. waterfronts, industrial areas, etc. It happens the same inside the buildings. Bicycle architecture offers a lot of opportunities to increase the use of bicycles in our lives as we can see these days in the First Bicycle Architecture Biennale in Amsterdam during the Velo-city 2017 Conference. The “Bikechitecture” is leading the paradigm changing as the carchitecture did during the XXth century but with much more potential. Steven and me like to call this Slow Architecture.

Kieran: There are cities that cycle in spite of infrastructure, e.g. Cambridge, with not particularly amazing infrastructure – but large numbers of cyclists, or Japan where the culture seems to permit sharing of pavement between cyclists and pedestrians. Is this purely due to demographics and culture?

I think it is not a cultural issue. People in Denmark are as lazy as any other country, but they cycle because it is the fastest option and that’s what they want. Also in Ferrara (Italy) where they never stopped cycling, they don’t have a particularly amazing bicycle infrastructure, and there are a lot of cyclists because they know it is the best option for transportation, for themselves and for their city. It is proved that cities with a high bicycle modal share are more traffic calming, safe and livable cities. They don’t need to do so many efforts in bicycle infrastructures as we do.

Kieran: Is there such a thing as a tipping point? When levels of cycling reach a point that means it gains such momentum it becomes dominant as a form of transport?

We are living a similar historic moment as we already lived few years ago with the anti-tobacco laws. We should remember when we didn’t know or we didn’t care about all the negative consequences of smoking and the majority of the people did smoke. The fact is that the majority of the people were against that change. Now, once the majority of the people will cycle, the majority of the discussions will be over.

Kieran: My research interest is how change can be created with little resources, The Pareto Principle states that 80% of the outcomes in any given situation come from 20% of the cause. How can the maximum of change be precipitated with the minimum of investment? If a city has a minimum budget for investment in urban cycling, how they should place that minimum investment?

Jordi: As my friend Mikael Colville Andersen from Copenhagenize Design Co. says, the best return on public investments that a government can have is on bicycle infrastructure. They are not only cheap, their return is the fastest (5 years in Denmark). Cities have to think and plan for the urban cycling level they want to reach but not the one they have now. In Denmark they calculate that every kilometer driven by car, the Danish state pays out 16 cents. But for every kilometer ridden by bike, the Danish coffers receive 23 cents.

Kieran: Do you think that change needs to come from the ground up, or top down? Can bicycle activism really create lasting change? E.g. from an informal network of guerrilla bicycle urbanism units acting on the same principles?

In general there should always be a mix of ground up and top down changes. But if one of this two has to be the bigger, I think it should be the first one. When the majority of the people wants to change or have already changed, old school politicians and technicians must change. What’s happening now is that every day more and more technicians and politicians are cyclist first, so changes are coming fast and from both directions.

Kieran: How significant are social issues to overcome in getting more people on bikes – e.g. fear of being seen as poor etc?

Jordi: There are some people that don’t want to cycle for some reason. I can understand that, but I can not understand some tensions against cyclist because even if you don’t cycle, you are still being benefited by the others who do. In most of the cities of South America, the richest districts are the ones with higher bicycle modal share. Cycling is much more than a transportation option, it is a way of living and thriving.