¿Necesitamos carnet para ir en bicicleta?

Do We Need a License to Ride a Bicycle?

01.6.2021
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Photo: Vicente Zambrano González / Barcelona City Council. - Bicycle lane on Girona street, Barcelona.

According to the third barometer of urban cycling in Barcelona, prepared by RACC, 38% of cyclists acknowledge not having knowledge of traffic regulations. RACC President Josep Mateu suggests that there is a need for specific training for cyclists who do not have experience as drivers of other vehicles. It would be something like a driving license for cyclists. But what’s next? A license for pedestrians to walk around? What percentage of car drivers, who have a license, drive too fast at times? Before targeting cyclists as a group, I think there are much better ways to improve the safety of cyclists and we should learn from cycling countries like the Netherlands and Denmark.

RACC suggests that there is a need for specific training for cyclists who do not have experience as drivers of other vehicles. It would be something like a driving license for cyclists.

Benefits of Cycling

First of all, we have to recognise that cycling has many benefits: it increases physical activity; it reduces premature mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer risk; it combines transport with the gym ­(many people don’t have time for the latter); it does not cause air and noise pollution; it emits zero CO2 (except through bicycle manufacturing and what the rider eats); it uses much less space than cars; and cyclists tend to be happier than other transport users.

Since many people have gained weight during the COVID-19 pandemic, the bicycle is also an excellent way to lose weight. A number of studies have shown that cyclists weigh less than car drivers, and also that car drivers who switch to cycling lose weight.

I think there are much better ways to improve the safety of cyclists and we should learn from cycling countries like the Netherlands and Denmark

A large number of car trips (as many as 50%) are less than 5 km. These could easily be replaced by healthier and more sustainable modes of transport such as cycling.

Electric bikes have become more popular over the past few years as prices have come down. These bikes allow older people to cycle and help riders cycle in hilly areas, as they require less effort. But they still provide physical activity. In the Netherlands and Belgium, electric bikes have become popular for long-distance commutes of up to 30 km.

Cost-benefit analyses show that the costs of cycling are generally much lower than the costs of car use . For example, in Copenhagen, driving a car is more than six times more expensive (€0.50/km) than cycling (€0.08/km).

Cycling has many benefits: it increases physical activity; it reduces premature mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer risk; it does not cause air and noise pollution; it emits zero CO2; it uses much less space than cars

Finally, the carbon footprint for daily travel is up to 84% smaller for people who walk or cycle than for people who use other modes of transport. Urban residents who switch from driving to cycling for just one trip per day can reduce their annual carbon footprint by about half a tonne of CO. If just one in five urban residents permanently changed their travel behaviour, it would cut emissions from all car travel in Europe by about 8%.

Paolo Chiabrando / Unsplash

What Do We Need to Do to Get People Cycling Safely?

What deters many people from cycling is safety. Accidents rates for cyclists are still considerably higher than, say, for car drivers (although accident rates for motorbikes are even worse). Therefore, an important prerequisite for cycling is the availability of safe cycling infrastructure, including segregated cycling lanes.

Cities urgently need to create (more) safe cycling networks or free up some streets altogether for cycling and walking only. A recent German study using bicycle counters in 106 European cities showed that the 20 cities that had considerably increased their cycling network (on average by 11.5 km) during the COVID-19 pandemic saw an increase in cycling of 11%-40% compared to those that did not. Putting a safe, segregated cycling lane in each street could prevent 250 premature deaths annually in a city like Barcelona because of the increase in physical activity. Numerous studies have shown that the benefits of physical activity well outweigh any risk associated with accidents or inhaling more air pollution.

What deters many people from cycling is safety. Cities urgently need to create (more) safe cycling networks or free up some streets altogether for cycling and walking only

Although urban cycling networks have expanded dramatically over the past few years, being a cyclist still feels like being a second-class road user. Too often, the placement of cycling lanes seems like an afterthought. Cyclists often have to make strange manoeuvres to get around. In some cases, cycling lanes end abruptly, leaving cyclists in the middle of heavy motorised traffic.

Mònica Moreno / Ajuntament de Barcelona

A challenge for many cities is the influx of private motorised traffic from elsewhere in the metropolitan area. Cities urgently need more and better public transport, but also cycling superhighways to encourage bicycle use. Commuting over longer distances is now possible thanks to electric bikes like the ones we see in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Reducing car speed to a maximum of 30 km/h will help to reduce accidents. The new law introduced on 11 May toreduce speeds to 30 km/h in Spanish cities is an important step, but it must be enforced if it is to work. A collision between a car and a cyclist or pedestrian at 30 km/h is much less likely to result in death than, say, at 50 km/h.

Reducing car speed to a maximum of 30 km/h will help to reduce accidents

However, we need further legislation like that of the Netherlands, where, when a bicycle and a car collide, it is always the fault of the driver. This encourages cautious driving. In addition, children should be taught in school about their rights to use roads and how to do so properly. Roads are public spaces for all of us—not just car drivers—to use and enjoy.

But most of all, we need to change the planning pyramid for dense cities. We should first plan for walking, then cycling, followed by public transport and finally private motorised traffic, rather than the other way around, as currently seems to be the case. Let’s put healthy and sustainable mobility at the top of the pyramid.

We need to change the planning pyramid for dense cities. We should first plan for walking, then cycling, followed by public transport and finally private motorised traffic, rather than the other way around, as currently seems to be the case

If RACC wants to do something to make cycling safer and more acceptable, it should focus on providing more and safer cycling infrastructure and support new legislation to protect cyclists and reduce motorised traffic speeds, all as means of promoting cycling as a sustainable and healthy approach to mobility. This will not only benefit cyclists, but everyone who lives in cities.

 

A shorter version of this article appeared in La Vanguardia as a letter to the editor (in Spanish)