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Monday, October 7, 2013

Car-Centric Spain Begins To Embrace The Bicycle | NPR


Cyclists whiz past Madrid's Puerta de Alcalá monument as part of Bici Crítica, a movement that seeks to raise awareness of bike safety. On the last Thursday of every month, thousands of cyclists ride in unison through downtown Madrid, blocking traffic during rush hour.

Cyclists whiz past Madrid's Puerta de Alcalá monument as part of Bici Crítica, a movement that seeks to raise awareness of bike safety. On the last Thursday of every month, thousands of cyclists ride in unison through downtown Madrid, blocking traffic during rush hour.
Lauren Frayer/NPR
For the first time on record, bicycles have outsold cars in Spain.
Higher taxes on fuel and on new cars have prompted cash-strapped Spaniards to opt for two wheels instead of four. Last year, 780,000 bicycles were sold in the country — compared to 700,000 cars. That's due to a 4 percent jump in bike sales, and a 30 percent drop in sales of new cars.
But unlike countries in northern Europe like the Netherlands or Belgium, Spain doesn't have a long-standing bicycle tradition. Spaniards cheer on their countrymen in the Tour de France or Vuelta a España bike races on TV each summer. But that hasn't trickled down to real people commuting to work on bikes. In fact, Spain has one of the highest fatality rates for road cyclists in Europe.
A group of self-proclaimed "cycling activists" in Madrid is trying to change that — forcing cars to share the road and teaching reluctant Spaniards how to bike to work.
"It was not a bike-friendly city. So for that, cycling in Madrid makes you an activist," said Pablo Leon, 33, who writes a blog called "I Love Bicis." "But I think one day in the future, people who use bikes are not going to be activists anymore. They're going to be just citizens, who ride bikes."
Leon participates in Bici Crítica, the Spanish version of Critical Mass, a take-over-the-streets bike movement born in San Francisco in the 1990s. In Madrid, the movement got a late start. It began here in 2004 with just four riders, and by 2009, had barely 20 participants. But then the economic crisis hit.
[See more at NPR]

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