On yer bike!

A couple of weeks ago there appeared, stencilled on the tarmac of the streets throughout the barrio, a series of chevrons with the stylised symbol of a bike between them. Being a bit of a thicky, I couldn’t quite work out what they meant; could it be that bikes had priority down the centre of the road, or maybe it was some sort of artwork, a hangover from Ruzafart. It never occurred to me that what it actually means is that bikes must go in the direction of the arrows, the same as everyone else.

That was always one of the joys of cycling in Valencia, the anarchic way you could wiz down a street toward on-coming traffic, and then suddenly jump onto the pavement when it came to ‘chicken’ time. And it was always perfectly acceptable to ride down the pavement, so long as you did it with care. Now, just like everything else it seems, we’re being bound by a whole new set of rules, regulations and prohibitions.

Valencia is a wonderful city to bike in because it’s absolutely flat, other than the ramps up and down to the dried up bed of the River Turia. There are 130 kilometres of cycle track throughout the city, more than double that of a couple of years ago. As wonderful as that may be, and being a born-again biker since someone gave me his cast-off a couple of years ago I thinks it’s great to get anywhere I want quicker by bike than I could by car, a fair percentage of those carril de bici were created at the cost of car parking places – and anyone who has tried to park almost anywhere in Valencia can vouch for the fact that it’s easier to find a Greek with an EU farming subsidy that can count the number of his olive trees correctly than a parking space in Valencia.

Obviously no-one is going to be happy if you lop off a couple of feet from the front of their building just to build a cycle lane, so the space was taken off the roads. Where once cars were parked diagonally they now park nose to tail, losing about a third of the parking spaces. As a car user – or parker, in this case – it ticks me off no end that I can spend over an hour circling my flat trying to find somewhere to park after a car journey of only twenty minutes. They’ve even taken away all the parking in some narrower streets so the one cyclist every couple of hours can make his way unimpeded around the city. Daft I calls it!

And now we’re being encouraged to use our bikes, where do we park them? For decades most people chained their bike to a lamppost, until a few months ago a load of people turned up to find their chains had been cut and the bike removed. Most simply put this down to bike theft, which is the biggest cause of crime in Valencia, until someone reported that it was actually the police who were doing away with the bikes. It was discovered that they were doing so under orders from some dead-leg in the town hall, who said that the bikes resting against lampposts could cause electric shocks or short-circuit the lights, although apparently there were no records of this ever having happened. They eventually relented when local bike groups banded together and demanded the return of the bikes and fines, saying it was an underhand way of a financially strapped council trying to pull in the readies.

So then we’re told that as a further service to the city’s cycling residents, the Town Council would put in special bars where bikes could be chained up securely. Brill idea, but try finding one. Most of them are in out of way places where there was a bit of space. In Ruzafa, where the biking population is probably on of the highest in the city, the nearest bike park is about fifteen minutes walk from where any activity is, and on a ride around town a few days ago, I saw a brand-new, just been set in concrete row of nice shiny bars labelled ‘bicicletas’ plonked outside a long row of disused warehouses alongside an urban dual carriageway where nary a cyclist would wander. Although, having said that, I obviously did, or I wouldn’t have seen them, but I’d definitely never have parked there.

Valencia may never be Amsterdam, with it’s thousands of peddlers, but to be fair, the Town Hall is at least doing something, even if most of it is badly planned and mis-directed. And it’s a joy to discover the city on two wheels – even if you can no longer play chicken in the face of on-coming traffic!

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

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