Students design bicycle-friendly Madrid

MADRID -- Students at the Institute of European Design in Madrid design routes, parking and promotion for a bicycle-friendly city.
Written by Jennifer Riggins, Contributor

MADRID -- A class of design students spent the last week attempting to transform Madrid into a bicycle-friendly city.

"Welcome Bike" brought 20 students together at the Madrid campus of the European Institute of Design (IED) to study the habits of cyclists and to focus on designing multiple bicycle routes, solutions to problems like theft, and how to promote and implement their designs. Students focused on best practices, parking and storage, implementation, and awareness.

"The Madrid public transportation is very good, but it is not designed with bicycles in mind," said product designer and class instructor Paul Heredia Martinez, in his native Spanish. Heredia and Welcome Bike are both a part of MadridDesignNet, which plans weeklong topic-based, practical design workshops to supplement traditional education.

"I think it's a neglected alternative transport in Madrid," said graphic design student Alejandra Franchina. The city perimeters have many bicycle lanes, but the center of Madrid has only three short disconnected ones.  Bicycles are not allowed on central Madrid's public transportation during rush hours.

The project's design focuses on the traditional center of Madrid--from the "barrios" of Alonso Martinez to Embajadores, which covers about 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) of the city, from the north to the south. Students worked on designing a platform for designating the best routes, based on cleanliness, air pollution levels, hills, proximity to stores and restaurants, and the fastest and most scenic routes, among other search perimeters.

Students worked on different kinds of parking and storage--for commuter zones, residential zones, and the mixed residential and commercial areas.  Office zones would need an increase in security, therefore bicycle parking could be integrated with car and motorcycle garages and lots. The class proposed three types of parking: free for under an hour, free in office areas, and "bike boxes" to rent in their neighborhoods.

Industrial design major Ana Baselga was part of the team looking for solutions for short-term and long-term, safe storage. They ended up designing small, portable "eggs" to be placed inside existing car parking lots and garages and in residential zones. She said that ten bikes can fit into the same parking space of one car. It would also free up the sidewalks for pedestrians.

Baselga is one of the two out of the 20 students in the class that ride bicycles in Madrid. She said that she cannot use it to commute to school because she "lives near Avenida de America and can't ride her bike through Calle Alcala and (Paseo de) La Castellana," two of the longest and most heavily-trafficked roads in Madrid.

Baselga talked about how there should be separate driving lanes created for bicycles, to be placed next to the already existing buses, taxis and motorcycle lanes. She said that 80-percent of Madrid cars typically have only have the driver and no passengers.

Another challenge is that Madrileños are unaware of services for cyclists. Franchina was part of the communication strategy team. They worked on developing potential logos, Website styles, and iPhone or iPad applications. Welcome Bike wants to spread the word to both car- and bike-riding residents, as well as tourists, with advertising campaigns and maps placed in popular commuter and tourist spots around Madrid.

"People are prejudice about bikes," said Heredia, citing worries such as discomfort and the potential to ruin business suits. He said that most of these problems can be solved simply by having the appropriate bike for the user's needs. A mountain bike is meant for rougher terrains, as a more standard bike is a better fit for the city.

He also said it is essential that the "bicicleterias" be more public and prevalent. As with most small businesses in Spain, it is nearly impossible to find a bicycle shop open on Sundays or late in evenings to allow for minor repairs, such as ruptured tires or broken chains.

Heredia rides his bike everywhere in Madrid, saying he rides an average of 12 kilometers (7.5miles) a day. He said that he cannot leave his bicycle parked in the most common Madrid space--around a lampost--due to thieves and vandals, as well as inclement weather. Heredia instead must carry his bike up flights of stairs.

When SmartPlanet asked Heredia what he does when it rains, he simply smiles and pulls up his jacket hood, making a joke about needing to buy wipers for his glasses.

Heredia said that, once the project is finished, students and faculty of IED intend to present their cohesive plan to the City of Madrid.

The Madrid administration announced this week that a new bicycle path will be added, allotted as a means of transportation, not the typical recreational use. It will run straight through the center of Madrid, sometimes with designated bike lanes, while, in other areas, integrating the bike with the taxi and bus lanes.

The City of Madrid attempted in the past to implement "MyBici," which was a resident bicycle rental system, apart of a Cycling Master Plan. Like those in Paris and Zaragoza, Spain, it would have allowed members of the inexpensive "MyBici" club to pick up bikes at some stations and drop them off at others, located near major public transit junctions. The plan focused on a comprehensive route of bicycle lanes throughout Madrid, while taking away the worry of having to store the bikes or bring them around on the Metro. The first round of implementation was due to be completed this last March, but was cut from the city budget.

Many grassroots, Madrid-based groups hold protests the last Thursday of each month, with cyclists battling nighttime rush hour traffic en-masse. Every June, a ride of hundreds of naked cyclists join the call for bike-safer roads.

We can only wait and see if the many possibilities for a bicycle-friendly Madrid will turn into a reality.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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