Madrid embraces the humble bicycle

Is it the economy or cultural changes which have prompted bicycle sales to overtake cars this year?

For the first time in recorded history, bicycle sales have outstripped cars in Spain.

As the economy remains fragile in Spain, high taxes and rising car prices have prompted Spaniards to opt for cheaper modes of transport -- namely bicycles. Last year, 780,000 bicycles were sold in the country -- in comparison to 700,000 cars, which works out as a four percent rise in bike sales, and a 30 percent plunge in car sales.

Having lived in Madrid, I know it is not a biker-friendly city. The country has one of the highest road fatality rates in Europe, bicycle lanes are scarce, and cars dominate roads.

As a result, a group of "cycling activists" are trying to change that -- forcing cars to share the road and trying to teach the general public how to ride.

The Bici Crítica rally -- which began in 2004 with only four riders -- now prompts thousands of cyclists to venture into Madrid one day every month, stopping rush hour traffic and riding a different route in every meeting.

The rally is meant to raise awareness of bicycles on the road, lower fatality rates and encourage others to consider cycling to work instead of driving. However, as the economy continues to slide, more commuters may be forced to use this mode of transport -- so the safer the city becomes for cyclists, the better.

Iván Villarrubia, a 36-year-old urban self-titled bike activist commented:

"People are fed up to wait for the City Council to make bike lanes. Because when they had the money, they didn't do it. And now that they want to do it, they don't have the money."

You might think the sunny climes of southern Spain would make the bicycle a popular travel option, but other countries in Europe far outstrip riding rates. In Amsterdam , there are 880,000 bicycles in comparison to a population of 800,000 city inhabitants, and 32 percent of all trips within the city are by bike in comparison to 22 percent by car.

"We are learning every day, about the crisis. Maybe it's not changing the things that we thought at the beginning would change -- the politicians, the banks, that kind of things. But it's changing our minds," said Juan Salenas, a Bici Crítica cyclist at the rally. "We spend less. We try to live with [what we have, and be] more happy."

Via: NPR

Image credit: Flickr

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