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Madrid’s electric bikes: Death sentence or life-changer?

  • Barcelona bike share.

  • The “BiciMad” service follows similar schemes in Spanish cities such as Barcelona.

MADRID: Politicians say Madrid’s shared electric bicycle scheme, due to launch this month, can change the lives of citizens – but others warn it will put their lives in danger.

The Spanish capital is seeking to match rival Barcelona, as well as Paris and London, by providing hundreds of bicycles for public hire – with the added feature of electric motors to help riders up slopes.

The self-service stands that will hold the 1,500 electric bicycles started appearing around the center of the Spanish capital last week, but the planned May 1 start was pushed back to an unconfirmed date.

Taxi driver Juan Gutierrez, 54, said he heard about the project just a week before the stands started going up. He shook his head at the thought of sharing the narrow streets with more bicycles.

“People in Madrid value their lives too much to get on a bicycle here. It is very dangerous,” he said.

“If the car that knocks you down doesn’t kill you, then the one behind it will.”

Across the road, passerby Antonio Martin, 78, looked curiously at a new stand, one of 120 being set up in the first phase of the “BiciMad” project.

“I think it’s great, for the environment and for traffic and everything,” he said. “Above all, when the weather is nice, this will be fantastic.”

The city hall has launched an “awareness campaign” ahead of the bicycle deployment, and Madrid’s conservative Popular Party Mayor Ana Botella has conceded that adjustments will be necessary.

“Drivers, pedestrians and cyclists have to make an effort to share public space for the benefit of all and mutually respect one another,” the mayor said in April.

Pascual Berrone, from Madrid’s IESE business school, meanwhile, said Spaniards were keen to get on their bikes but did appear reluctant to ride in Madrid due to safety concerns.

Sales of bicycles in Spain recently surpassed those of cars, Berrone said – but in central Madrid, very few people use their bikes because of a lack of joined-up, dedicated cycle lanes and other infrastructure.

“There are places it is quite easy to ride a bike, but other areas where it is extremely dangerous. It is often scary to ride a bicycle in Madrid,” he said.

The “BiciMad” service follows similar schemes in Spanish cities such as Barcelona, as well as Paris’s “Velibs” and London’s so-called “Boris bikes.”

Built and installed by Spanish Basque firm BonoPark under a 25-million-euro ($35 million) contract, the Madrid bikes will have electric motors that help propel them when pedaled.

It remained to be confirmed how much users would have to pay to hire them.

The city hall said bicycle use in Madrid increased by 17 percent from 2012 to 2013. Madrid currently has just over 300 kilometers of cycle lanes and has promised 70 kilometers more.

“For years, riding bicycles in the center of Madrid has been a dream that few people believed in,” Mayor Botella said last month.

“Today, it is a real alternative to using a private vehicle, a possibility that complements public transport,” he added.

The city hall said it believed the bike-share scheme “will change driving habits and improve the coexistence between the different forms of transport.”

In the meantime, it said police have been cracking down on bike-related traffic violations. Officers have sanctioned dozens of cyclists and hundreds of drivers over the past few weeks.

“Madrid has a good basis but is lacking the infrastructure to go with it and needs to educate drivers. Madrid has improvements to make,” Berrone said.

“But if you accept that it can improve the traffic flow in the city and help people be in better health and breathe better air, then that is an investment you have to make.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 06, 2014, on page 13.
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Summary

Politicians say Madrid's shared electric bicycle scheme, due to launch this month, can change the lives of citizens – but others warn it will put their lives in danger.

Pascual Berrone, from Madrid's IESE business school, meanwhile, said Spaniards were keen to get on their bikes but did appear reluctant to ride in Madrid due to safety concerns.

Sales of bicycles in Spain recently surpassed those of cars, Berrone said – but in central Madrid, very few people use their bikes because of a lack of joined-up, dedicated cycle lanes and other infrastructure.

The city hall said bicycle use in Madrid increased by 17 percent from 2012 to 2013 . Madrid currently has just over 300 kilometers of cycle lanes and has promised 70 kilometers more.


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