The post of mayor of the bicycle is relatively new in Madrid. Appointed by a Dutch company –Bycs– which since 2016 created this figure to promote sustainable mobility. Today there are more than 120 around the world. In the capital, the first was the urban cyclist Jaime Novo, who since this summer has been working in the Environment and Mobility area of the City Council. So a replacement has been appointed: Fernando García.
García (Madrid, 1972) has been an activist for urban mobility in Madrid for some time. He was the one who started -with a group of people- the Neighborhood Revolt that for several weekends served to pedestrianize several downtown streets, in the style of the School Revolt in front of the schools. We met with him to talk next to one of the roads that were cut, that of Antonio Grilo, an example of a poorly designed place: there are few sidewalks and cars, which do not fit on the road due to online parking, are they constantly climb into the pedestrian space.
WE ARE MADRID: What does a bicycle mayor do?
FERNANDO GARCÍA: It is something symbolic and without remuneration. Its function is to serve as a binder and speaker of many wills that seek better mobility in public space, seeking dialogue with decision-making parties such as municipal government or political parties, within resilient cities, in which the climate change that we are experiencing can be smoothed out. . It has to be someone who fights for the city to make available to its neighbors the necessary tools for this to progress.
What goals have you set for yourself?
The mayoralty lasts two years, and in that time the world is not changed. But I want to improve dialogue with the political sphere, both with the government and with the opposition, and let them know why a city with many bicycles is a healthier place, with happier people, who work better and whose economy grows more. And also to convey to them how this can be made to happen, because all the teams that have passed through the Madrid City Council in the last 20 years have said that they want more bikes, but it has not been possible for the city to reach the level that exists in other European cities.
Another objective is to change the vision that many people in Madrid have that the bicycle is something of young people, of athletes, of crazy people … and that it is not practical, fast or safe. There are a lot of myths to debunk. In a city like this most of the trips are less than ten kilometers. And in those cases, the bike is usually the most competitive response in terms of time, if we count all the changes that are made in public transport or how long it takes to park the car.
How do you get more bicycles on the streets of Madrid?
With a network of protected bike lanes, which backbones the neighborhoods and attractions of the city. And with places where people can park their bikes safely. 70% of Spanish households have at least one bike, but many times it is not used, because driving between cars is dangerous, it is not inclusive at all.
We have to achieve streets with an 8:80 approach, that is, that are so safe that 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds can walk on them. And design spaces with a zero-vision approach, where the responsibility that there is no accident does not fall on road users but on the way of distributing their spaces. Both ways of facing mobility are not being practiced in Madrid, where there is also not enough cycling network.
Wouldn’t streets limited to 30 km / h be enough?
An experienced urban cyclist, who circulates with rhythm, goes at an average of about 15 km / h. If you share the same road as vans, trucks or cars that go 30 km / h, they are not very compatible. If you add to this the equation for older or younger cyclists that I mentioned earlier, the user base falls to the ground.
Álvarez del Manzano said that in Madrid you could not use the bicycle because there are many slopes …
A Dutch friend who came to study here asked me: “Why are there no bikes in Madrid? If it is the perfect city” while she told me that it never rains and there are no strong winds. And the slopes are gentle, not impossible to climb walls.
Of the mayors that Madrid has had, Gallardón thought of the bike, but more as an entertainment or a sport, not so much as a mobility tool. With the Carmena government there were high expectations, some decent bike lanes were built, but there were a couple of episodes in which, due to their symbolism, great opportunities were lost. It happened in Gran Vía, where the Cycling Master Plan endorsed by all political parties was ignored and the City Council flatly refused to include protected bike lanes, from Alcalá to Callao, despite the fact that there was plenty of room. He opted for a bad solution in the part that goes from Plaza España to Callao, a sandwich bike lane that is between a bus lane and a car lane, through which all vehicles cross, generating insecurity and discomfort.
Almeida began by eliminating bike lanes on the Gran Vía de Hortaleza. Then he implemented some storms well below those that had been promised in the Villa Agreements, with a design that makes them not work as in Delicias or Méndez Álvaro, where double lines are permanently produced, with invasion of loading and unloading and taxis . The current City Council, removing the Castellana bike path, has no commitment to do anything.
Can the Castellana Bike Lane bring a cycling revolution?
Of course yes. Wherever you build a bike lane, cyclists proliferate quickly. La Castellana is the river of Madrid, it is the one that goes up and down people from one place to another: a good bike path there can be the beginning of an incipient network that covers all the main avenues of the capital and connects all neighborhoods, even with cities in the metropolitan area. But it must be done.
In terms of design and philosophy, what we currently know of the Castellana Bike Lane has major flaws. Many adjustments have been made so that not a single meter of lanes is sacrificed for the car, it has complicated encounters in roundabouts, where sustainable mobility is not prioritized. We will see how it is finally resolved because the project is not closed.
What role do you think Bicimad has played within the cycling mobility of the city?
The first thing they have to achieve with Bicimad is that it works well again, because today it is a disaster and it goes in cycles, due to lack of resources so that the system does not crash. One of the main uses of these systems is education and visibility: it is a simple and cheap system with which to start contemplating moving around the city by bike. But the number of cyclists it moves is not significant in the modal distribution of transport in Madrid: although there are 2,000 bicycles circulating in the capital, 100,000 cars pass through the Castellana every day.
There are other systems that, in addition to the educational function, manage to play a significant role in terms of the volume of bikes mobilized. For example, in the Netherlands they have a mechanism so that everyone can get to a train station by bicycle and then can get off and borrow a bike to reach their destination.
The solution to ensure that the bicycle has more prominence in Madrid does not go through a mega-expansion of Bicimad, but rather to offer the conditions on the streets so that cyclists can go through protected lanes and that there is space to park safely at the destinations.
In which cities would Madrid have to look to build its cycling infrastructures?
We are at a time when we no longer have to look to other countries to see what can be done. Seville implemented its bike lanes in a first phase that only lasted two years, with fantastic results in the modal split. In Vitoria, they are committed to cycling infrastructures regardless of who governs, they know that taking space from the car is good for everyone. Valencia is making great achievements in recent years. And Barcelona is also making progress, although not with the forcefulness of the other cities that I have mentioned.
“A city with many bicycles is a place with happier people and whose economy grows more”
With regard to abroad, all Dutch cities are an example, although Madrid has to look at what London and especially Paris have done. The French capital is larger and more complex than our city, but in a very short time it is managing to get many cars out of circulation and that an important part of mobility is switched to sustainable modes such as cycling, public transport and walking.
How do you see the cycling movement in Madrid?
There are very veteran associations, such as Pedalibre, which was founded in 1982. Or movements such as bicicrítica, which has been in Madrid for more than 20 years. However, the ecosystem of cycling activism has yet to grow, because more voices are needed calling for all the improvements I am talking about. We have to work more transversality to change the city, so that many interest groups agree to fix things, so that neighborhood movements, ecological movements, families from schools, etc., join in.
The team that will help you in the bicycle mayor’s office is equal and there are four women. Is there a gender bias in the cycling world in Madrid?
There is a clear consensus that cities have been made and function with a male bias. The streets are made so that there is a man who goes to work in the morning taking the car and returns in the afternoon, while there is another woman at home who goes to do the shopping on foot. A gender approach is already being applied to urban planning in some new developments, also thinking of women, caregivers, children or the elderly. When we start doing this in Madrid we will see many more women taking bikes and participating in the cycling movement.
Are there more people from Madrid than you think would be willing to get on the bike for their daily trips?
I think the spirit of our time has changed a lot compared to before the pandemic. We have all noticed how our city changed without cars on the street, during lockdown. The air was cleaner, new smells appeared that we did not perceive before … it even seemed to us that the streets were wider, with a lot of space to do things. We noticed that when we were cycling, without cars, moving through the city was pleasant, safe and fast.
We need the city’s streets to improve their walking and cycling conditions, to have more trees, more public space for something other than storing cars. You don’t have to convince people to get off their bikes from their homes: in order for there to be more cyclists, you have to make the streets more attractive. The potential is huge, but you have to act.