Monthly Archives: January 2016

Valencia’s Critical Mass

I am going to talk about the Critical Mass in Valencia (Spain) today. It starts at the Virgin square in downtown the first Friday of every month at 19:30, no matter if it is raining, the wind blows, is a holiday or the sun shines. This fact as well as the climatic variations in the four seasons make that the number of participants varies along the year, reaching the highest figures in spring, summer and the first months of autumn.

It is particularly interesting that the Critical Mass has no direction, neither organizers. This way it can end in the same place where it starts, the beach, the former riverbed, close villages and so on.

Regarding the bikers, everyone can participate in this ride from children to senior citizens since the reached velocities allows to enjoy it without even sweating. Sometimes politicians come such as Giuseppe Grezzi, the current Mobility Advisor who is making efforts in favor of sustainable mobility. Moreover, one can see strange bicycles like the bike-monsters, the “bici-gelat” (a horchata truck bike, being horchata a typical Valencian tiger nut milk drink) or the odd boat-bike which swings as it was a true boat. People in handbikes and skaters are also welcomed. To contribute to the festive ambient, participants dress up like in carnival from time to time.

As far as logistics issues are concerned, police closes the Critical Mass to calm traffic almost every time. Indeed, bikers close themselves perpendicular streets to where it passes chatting to car drivers to pacify them because not each and every driver is a good one. What is more, the Spanish legislation is partly unknown, specifically the point which indicates that a group of cyclists is treated as a sole unit referred to zebra crossings, stops, traffic lights, traffic circles… One important point constitutes the fact that the bus line is respected as it represents a path of sustainability.

Finally, it ends with a huge applause and the ride is a success due to the collaboration of all people involved.

Foto by Antuan Toledo

Foto by Antuan Toledo

The Critical Mass

Let me start by the beginning. The grounds appeared in China as a consequence of a characteristic cyclist behavior. It consists in a cyclist waiting in an intersection until a group of bikers is created. Once they have the sufficient power and visibility, they can cross it and force the cars to stop. By the way, the name of “critical mass” is taken from this film.

Then, it jumped up into the U.S. and specifically to San Francisco as the first “official” Critical Mass. Here, the participants had to fight against the lack of understanding of local authorities and dramatic actions were even taken. The documentary We are traffic! shows those initial moments. As you can see, the atmosphere was committed with all the participants wanting to spend a good time while at the same time they defended claims such as a better world, pollution reduction, practicing more sport, reducing street accidents and so on.

Today it is celebrated in more than 300 cities worldwide once a month. The specific date varies between places and it is a good idea to contact with local bikers to join it. So remember, if you see suddenly cyclists on the street, let’s say dozens, hundreds or even thousands, you would be probably seeing the Critical Mass. It could also be possible that it did not still exist where you live. If this is the case, why don’t you start it?.

The ideal bike way

Something apparently so simple, yet so often made wrong. Bike ways are key when it comes to urban planning. And rather than building miles and miles for statistical purposes, one should consider them as the main point to make vulnerable users feel safe.

in order to do so there are a number of points to consider, here are some:

  • Bike ways should enable anybody to bike safely.
  • Bike dispensers and racks should be placed next to bike ways.
  • Bike ways intersections must be designed in order to avoid conflicts.
  • Bike ways should cover the whole city, more so in areas with high density.
  • Bike ways should be physically separated both from cars and pedestrians.
  • Bike ways should be evenly paved since most bicycles have no suspension.
  • Bike ways should be placed far away from parked cars to avoid being doored.
  • Bike ways should be wide enough to accommodate more than one bike at a time.
  • Bike ways should not be used to carry rain water and puddles should be promptly fixed.
  • Speed limits should be lowered in the areas surrounding bike ways, if not thruought the city.
  • Bike ways should follow a standard through the city, instead of using cyclist as guinea pigs.
  • Bike ways should be easy to identify so that people don’t inadvertently drive or walk on them.
  • Bike ways should be placed far away from big trees to avoid expensive and often repaves.
  • Intersections with bike ways should be kept clear and without plants or objects that obstruct the view.
  • Bike ways should be kept as flat as possible and provide alternatives to hills so that everybody can bike.
  • Bike ways should be properly illuminated since even the most prepared biker can end up with an exhausted battery.
  • Bike ways should be placed far away from highways and dangerous roads, even one block makes a huge difference.
  • Bike ways should be paved with red asphalt or bricks, instead of black asphalt painted red or green, to avoid having to repaint them.

Bikeway Amsterdam

The Netherlands, then and now

Biking in the Netherlands is like a dream: physically separated, perfectly paved bike ways take you all around and make you feel safe while on the road. Children, workers, and retirees commute by bike and they are promoting it more and more.

However, it wasn’t always like that. Back in the 50s and 60s most drove a car, older buildings were destroyed in order to make way for big avenues, pollution and accidents were on the rise.

So, how did they go from then to now?.

I’m sure there were a number of reasons for this radical change, but that first spark was the fact that society realized the number of accidents, dead people, and specially killed children was outrageous. And so they began campaigning: activists demonstrated and occupied in favor of life, everybody’s lives.

Eventually, they got funding in order to design safe urban planning. And they kept demonstrating and pushing towards an increase in bike facilities, lowering speed limits, and so on.

Not to mention the 1973 oil crisis, which multiplied the price of oil and made clear that transportation had to be diversified.

And so now, biking is an essential part of Dutch culture, and increasingly the whole world.

Why we bike

  • Because biking is healthy
  • Because biking is inexpensive
  • Because biking doesn’t pollute
  • Because biking makes you happier
  • Because fixing a bike is really easy
  • Because biking doesn’t consume fuel
  • Because biking helps you relieve stress
  • Because you can make friends while biking
  • Because there are almost no traffic jams on bike ways
  • Because biking is a great way of discovering your neighborhood