Bike and scooter hunt down the car among Barcelonans, by Carles Cols

  • The latest X-ray of the mobility of residents in the city reveals the strength of walking and dismantles the myth of the motorcycle legion

There are chronicles that seem written only to annoy a part of the readers and this could seem like one of them, but in reality they are only data. The people of Barcelona (registered or simply resident in the city) who use the car as their main means of transport are in percentage terms the same as those who, added together, use the bicycle, the scooter or any other equivalent device for their urban journeys. That is not what the observation of the streets seems to suggest, with that incessant traffic of cars and, by the way, that vice that drivers are increasingly acquiring to use the horn as if it were a miraculous congestion unblocker. It is only, what has been said, what the figures say. 10.1% of Barcelonans use the car as a priority means of transport. 9.3% choose the bicycle, the scooter and other gadgets for their trips. Sooner rather than later, perhaps in 2022, the curves will intersect.

Metro (31.4%) and bus (25.2%) on the sidelines, because that is another league, the preferred means of transport for Barcelonans who have taken root in the city, not those who cross the border of the term every day municipal from other cities, is go on foot. It is for a 13.2% of the people of Barcelona. It is a figure in ascending progression. In 2001 it was an anemic 5%. It was so at the cost of an even greater omnipresence of the car on the streets than today, which was the usual means of transport then for 14.3% of citizens. In 20 years, the mutation of public space in search of a friendlier environment has been more remarkable than what the collective memory tends to remember. The positive consequences, yes, are obvious.

In this salad of figures, of course, the other great actor on the public highway is missing, the one who through several spokesmen promotes his existence as the great solution: the bikers. Barcelona is the city of motorcycles, they sometimes say with a certain arrogance. It is the common means of transport of 7.8% of the people of Barcelona. Less, then, than cyclists and skaters.

All these data are the small print of the latest survey of municipal services of the Barcelona City Council, the part that unfairly went unnoticed when the last edition of that report was presented in public on October 26, with insecurity as the main concern of the Barcelona residents, and circulation and housing in second and third place. The headlines, quite logically, were taken away by those questions and not, instead, by that unexpected X-ray of mobility. With the alarm lights that illuminate the Glasglow Climate Summit these days it is worth repeating that unusual look on how, if a lot or a little, the people of Barcelona contribute to this environmental catastrophe and its solution. It goes through neighborhoods.

The landscape of the streets can seem, with these figures on the table, a monumental visual deception. It is indisputable that more cars circulate on Calle de Aragó than on its bike lane. Lack to understand what happens, of course, a piece of information. About 536,000 vehicles enter the city every business day. Placed in single file, just to visualize what that data means, they would form a caravan of more than 2,100 kilometers in length, a queue of cars from Barcelona to Copenhagen.

60% of those 536,000 vehicles per day are filtering into the urban fabric like a chirimiri through the different exits of the ring roads, but the rest, 40%, are injected into the city center through four arteries, Gran Via, Diagonal, Via Augusta and Meridiana. These vehicles and those of the people of Barcelona who use their private car as a means of transport are, as is often emphasized, great eaters of public space. According to data from Barcelona Regional, as a note, 65% of the vehicles that enter the municipality every day do so with a single passenger on board, that is to say, the driver, who in 78% of the cases is a man. In fact, One of the great contributions of the municipal survey is the radically different use that men and women make of the city, almost as if they were different species, the first motorized, the second, much more pedestrian, and when it comes to traveling by public transport they also have remarkably different habits. Out of every three people who get on a bus, for example, two are women and the third is a man.

The pandemic, as is known, is an anomalous sawtooth in the historical sequence of the Barcelona polls. The weight of the car as a preferred means of transport has grown during the deconfinement to that 10.1% mentioned at the beginning, but in 2018 there were 8.4% of respondents who indicated that box in the answer. Everything points, however, to the fact that it is temporary. The mobile fleet of the people of Barcelona has been incessantly dwindling for many years. According to the latest available calculation, in 2019 the people of Barcelona totaled 486,403 cars. A quarter of a century ago there were 624,893. That is a remarkable demotorization. The reasons are various. A couple of ideas are suggested in the survey. According to the results table, there is a car in 56% of households in the city. In 31.3% there is not because they do not consider that they do not need it. In another 12.6%, simply because they cannot afford it. The city, in this section, is of course not homogeneous. I said, it goes through neighborhoods. In more than 77% of all the neighborhoods of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi there is at least one car. In Gòtic, the obverse of the coin in this chapter, only 21.4% of households have a car.

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The impossible thing (at least until the battery of questions in the survey is reformulated and the range of questions to be answered widens) is to know as of today how many bicycles or scooters are there in the city. More than cars? More than motorcycles, according to the census, 265,946? There are households with two or three bicycles and no cars. There are also households without bicycles, but very few with two or three cars. What is interesting is that X-ray that portrays the mobility of the people of Barcelona and, badly enough and bothersome, how the neighborhoods with high incomes are, in terms of climate emergency, behind the rest of the city, for whatever reason. Just as a note, in the Eixample there are 294 cars for every 1,000 inhabitants. In Ciutat Vella, much less, 166. The top is occupied by Sarrià-Sant Gervasi in this classification, with 404 cars per 1,000 inhabitants.

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