Bicing, Casual Sociology

I also posted this on our family blog, but as it has a dose of casual sociology, here goes also.  You can never turn off your social science brain once you have spent enough time reading theory.

Bicing is Barcelona’s bike sharing program and network. You get a card.

I keep my card in my wallet, but I have to remember to take my wallet out of my back pocket.

Now you can go to a station and grab a utilitarian bike.

Bicing is run by the city government, the ajuntament.

You pay 30Euros a year (about $42) a year for the card, and then 0.5E per thirty minutes of use up to three hours. You get to swipe your card on the little screen at the station.

Now, of course, Barcelona, as a transportation network, has a long history of technological changes layered on top of prior technology and intersecting with growth, redesign, and social trends. The old quarter, with its narrow, byzantine streets had to adapt from foot and hoof traffic to cars, the 19th century, the “expansion” or “Eixample” in Catalan (clever name there), was built for trams and trolleys, many of which disappeared to be replaced by the metro, buses and gas cars. Although, the trams have sort of made a comeback with these newly installed beauties.

They are often installed on the old lines on the broad avenues, like that other exemplar of functional industrial nomenclature asethetics, “Avenida Diagonal” The Diagonal cuts, naturally, diagonally across the city.

So, on to this infrastructure palimpsest comes the new wave of cycling. I have always wanted to use palimpsest! Of course, the city was never really built with tri-use through ways- car, ped, cycle. So, cycling is always a hit or miss affair (ha ha) in terms of finding a route and surviving with your skin and/or life.

Since we lived here 1999-2001, the amount of cycling has grown at an exponential rate. I can recall vividly seeing the occasional cyclist on the road weaving in and out of the coursing arteries of cars and buses with their sub-arteries of motos zipping between lanes and thinking “there goes a thrill seeker or someone on suicide watch.” Now, one does not even notice the flow of bicycles. Although, I would roughly guess that it is used by only about 10% of the population. So, usage has grown, but is dwarfed by public transport and private cars.

Bicing is tailored to a specific niche. The idea seems to be you would use it as a replacement for short commutes, to access areas that are difficult to get to by car, or to link up to public transport faster and/or on your own schedule. I suppose a few people prefer the exercise element. Some examples of how I have used it.

  1. My ¨commute¨ to the library Jaume Fuster in Pl Lesseps. I could take a bus, but it is faster and funner on bicing. I also see people who seem like they are going or coming from work. However, the explosion of foldable bikes means that regular commuters seem to prefer those whereas bicing’s “always on, always there” network is more tailored to irregular or spontaneous travel.
  2. To go across our barrio of Gracia which as an older village absorbed by the city has lots of squares, one way streets and not great public transport across it’s length.

    Lovely Modernista building in Pl Virreina

    3. To get from our house to a nearby metro line to avoid having to take two metros (replacement of commute). This can also feed the I think universal feeling that it is better to be in control than at the mercy of the transport system even if you get there just as fast. For example, if you are stuck in highway traffic, going on small roads may not be faster, but sure as hell feels better. Some of the metro link up tunnels feel like they are half a kilometer long,are hot, crowded and underground. I´d rather bike there.

Anyway, this post is growing from a short to along one! A few other tidbits.

* They are NOT for tourism. If you want a tourist bike, you go to a specialized renter.

* No one wears a bike helmet. Again, it is the spontaneous quality. This terrifies me and I don’t understand why me nor anyone else simply buys a bike helmet and carries it around. Or how about a portable, or collapsible, or inflatable one?

* Bicing has changed my personal geography of the city. Routes I know from driving or walking are not always usable by bicing. Usually, I try to maximize downhill, not being squashed by motorized traffic, where a station is at the other end, and not going too far out of the way to meet the other criteria. This means that spontaneous use is not always easy since you have to have an idea of where you are going and how to get there. There are a few roads with dedicated bike lanes, but not that many near me or where I need to go.

* Barcelona is a city built on hills and three gears is not that many.

* Those stations… the system is “smart” in the sense that if you have an internet connection, you can see a live map of stations and available bikes. however, the map is never exactly right. I have one around in circles trying to find some station that was on the map but ends up being a block or two away. I have no idea how this disconnect happens between the cartographers and the people who built the stations. Is it an elaborate joke?

* Conspiracy theory. The signs for a bicing station are not actually very visible. They are shorter than bus signs, for example. I have at times been very close to a station and not been able to see it since my line of vision has to go through people, vehicles, and other bikes (every corner is crawling with parked motos and cycles). I have a theory that there was a turf war in the city government. The taxi authority hates the cycles since taxistas hate everything on the road. The metro people hate them since they might suck traffic and hence revenue from the public transports. The police hate them since they add another vector for traffic accidents or sidewalk accidents and hence more paperwork. The park department hates them since they make it hard to get to the hardy little trees they so lovingly care for in a city that ignores, pisses, and dog craps on them. Their veganza? Short signs so the poor ciclista is left circling and circling like some sort of urban Odysseus.

* I hate pedestrians now. Don’t they see the GOD DAMN bike lanes painted on the sidewalks. There are only about six bike lanes in the whole city. You don’t walk on the street like a bunch of drunk sheep waddling home from the pub do you? Do you think it is easy to pedal slowly and steer the pattern of a James Bond defensive driving course? GET OUT OF THE WAY.

* My bell to warn the pedestrians sounds pathetic, like it is from some quaint Ivory Merchant film about British elites tooling through a sun-drenched flower meadow. This is urban warfare, damn it. See conspiracy theory above.

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