Nine Million Bicycles

In February of this year, Muriel Casals, a 70 year old cultural activist, anti-Franco resister and MP in the current Catalan parliament, was knocked down and killed by a cyclist in Barcelona. Last month the same thing happened to the poet Josefina Peraire, aged 69. There are no accurate figures on how many people are run down by eco-warriors every year, but the Sant Pau hospital has stated that in the second quarter of 2015, it dealt with 9 pedestrians injured by cyclists; the equally large and important Hospital Clínic says that it deals with between 4 and 6 similar cases every month. There are about 50 other hospitals in the city, so the total quarterly figures could well be close to a hundred. Which is odd, because the City Council's by-laws clearly state that cyclists must stick to bicycle lanes; and when there isn't one, they have to move onto the road, staying as close as possible to the pavement. If there is neither a lane or road available, they are allowed to use the pavement, always giving pedestrians right of way and never exceeding a speed limit of 20km/hour. Flawlessly sensible though these by-laws might be, they refrain from pointing out that the above-mentioned bicycle lanes aren't really lanes at all, but white lines painted sometimes on the road and usually on the actual pavements. (They're often placed smack next to metro exits and bus stops, which means emerging passengers can be clipped at random by cyclists who are anything less than eagle-eyed).

This Mickey Mouse bicycle grid is, however, only one source of the accidents. The other is a sizable minority of the cyclists themselves, who ride full tilt along pavements (steering well clear of the bicycle lanes), dinging their bloody little bells at pedestrians who have to swerve out of their ecological way like startled geese; or they use the lanes, but ignore one-way signals, shoot through traffic lights, and don't keep a lookout for pedestrians who have inadvertently strayed over the white line (usually older people, who aren't yet used to them). It's true of course, that cyclists maim and kill less people than drivers or bikers, but unlike cyclists, the latter are subject to various controls: they have to have a licence and number plates, take breathalyser tests and make sure their vehicles pass an MOT test (here called an ITV); they also have to stay on asphalt and off paving, whereas some cyclists, notably tourists, seem to think that they can go on any surface they please, in any direction, at any speed that takes their fancy. The situation has now got so out of hand that to take a walk in Barcelona you have to keep your eyes permanently peeled, including the ones in the back of your head. Rumours have it that in November of this year the Municipal Police will, for the first time, start fining cyclists who infringe the relevant by-laws. Meanwhile the City Council has just launched a new poster campaign whose main slogan is: 'Bicycles are healthy'. As they used to say: 'One man's meat...'

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, juny de 2016


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