Under which circumstances should city police accompany and protect Bicibus riders when going to school? What are the steps that parents need to take to create a new Bicibus route and ‘register’ it with city officials? How can the city make it easier to create new Bicibus routes? To what extent can the city impose rules on Bicibus riders, such as how many lanes they occupy, route choice, or minimum age requirements? Can the city unify decision making criteria and rules across its 10 districts?
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau and her team are proposing to formalize procedures that regulate Bicibus routes in the city, with particular attention to the supervision and police support provided to the 11 Bicibus lines in Barcelona. The movement has exploded within the last year (link news story), and there are now 37 schools being serviced by 11 Bicibus routes (link database).
Yesterday the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau called her top city officials to meet with the Bicibus activists, to kick off a process aimed at creating a city-wide Bicibus Protocol.
This meeting is a huge success for the Bicibus movement. The Mayor pulled in her entire team at the highest level 1: Deputy Mayor and Councillor Janet Sanz, Councillor Laia Bonet (Mobility), Albert Batlle (Security), Xavi Matilla (City Architect), Adrià Gomila (Transportation), Manuel Valdes (Infrastructure), among many other top officials. This seemed to be the work of the Mayor herself, who is asking her team to take Bicibus seriously, and to work with activists to find a way to make this work for the city.
But not everyone on her team shares the Mayor’s enthusiasm for Bicibus as a mechanism to transform the city. Resistance is coming from the police department and her governing partners from the Partit Socialista de Catalunya (PSC). Recall that the City Councillor Laia Bonet (PSC) claimed that it was evident that not all children could go to school in a Bicibus and the city was not prepared to scale this model.
The proposal for a Bicibus protocol raises interesting questions, and in practice sets up a negotiation between Bicibus activists and members of the city government who are less enthusiastic about the initiative, especially city officials at the District level and city police.
Some of the protocol ideas presented in the meeting, such as limiting the age of Bicibus participants, seem ridiculous, and contrary to aims of the city and Mayor ( Link Presentation).
It is possible that the Bicibus protocol will limit (not increase) the circumstances in which city police provide protection for Bicibus riders. At the same time, the protocol provides legal and political cover from future criticism if something were to go wrong. It is still to be seen if the protocol will make life easier for Bicibus activists, who need to negotiate with city officials for permits.
The extent to which the protocol helps Bicibus activists will depend on the scope of the document. If it simply covers the circumstances in which the police provide protection, that would certainly be fair. However if it aims to control other issues such as decisions about routes, whether or not to bring music, how many vehicle lanes may be occupied or who is allowed to participate, that would probably not go down well, and in my view, should remain as decisions for parents and families.
At worst, the protocol will allow the city to do less and have the political cover to do less. It also might allow the Mayor to demonstrate to non-cyclists that she is doing something to ‘regulate’ the cycling activists. So for the Mayor, the Bicibus protocol is a political and practical win. Another interpretation is that the protocol process is a way for the Mayor to get everyone to work together and reduce frictions and conflicts over the creation and management of new Bicibus routes.
Within hours of the meeting the city had a headline in the El Periodico newspaper: “The Mayor commits to facilitate and unify the logistics for Bicibus” (link news story).
How will Bicibus activists respond to the proposed protocol that limits decision making of parents and activists? It seems like most of the restrictive measures and proposals in the protocol are coming from the police department. Do the Mayor and City activists have enough influence to ‘bend’ the police? How will the formalization process support the development of new routes? And if the protocol is based on participation numbers from 2022, might the protocol need to be revised if the number of routes increases?
1 The City government in Barcelona has a cabinet, much like a national government, with Urban Planning, Transportation, Infrastructure and related departments delegated to City Councillors.