Barcelona has been at the forefront of innovative urban transformation by creating pedestrian and bike friendly streets. Barcelona’s Superblocks and School Streets programs have received international attention for their success at taking away space from cars and prioritizing people. The changes are the result of strong pressure from environmental and cycling activists demanding cleaner air and healthier urban environments. While most of the transformations have been led by the city, I see that the civic and activist community also deserve some of the credit.
When Lisa Ratner, Board Member of the SF Bike Coalition invited me to give a talk about the transformations taking place in Barcelona, I wanted to use this opportunity to describe what I have been seeing in the last few years. What most has struck me is how citizen-led initiatives are playing a key role in advancing the cycling agenda – so this is the story that I wanted to tell.
Bike activists in Barcelona work in a network, on a volunteer basis, and have taken strategic actions to drive urban transformation. The cycling community includes a broad range of organizations and civic groups such as BiciBús, Plataforma Bici Augusta, Bike Vidrera, Biciclot, BACC, CUBIC, and many others. They are well organized, connected, tech-savvy and effective at mobilizing resources. In my presentation, I aimed to explain why they have emerged, and what explains their success. For instance, one might explain the success of BiciBus (Bike Bus) to the pre-existing network of parents and schools developed by the Revolta Escolar (School Revolt), a parent led initiative demanding safer school streets. I also shared the recent creation of BiciZen, a crowdsourcing platform for cyclists, which will leverage the strong network to document inconveniences in the everyday cycling experience and help answer research questions that we could not answer without crowdsourcing collaboration.
When I presented at the offices of the SF Bike Coalition on Mission Street on 29 June 2023, I had the chance to met the leadership team Janelle Wong and Christopher White and we shared lessons. One interesting parallel between Barcelona and San Francisco is that that to win over a broader public during a campaign, the messaging may need to move away from a conventional pro-cycling focus. For instance, in the campaign to close JFK Promenade in Golden Gate Park to vehicles, the messaging needed to focus on the benefits for everyone, and de-emphasize the benefits for bikes. The in-person event at SF Bike Coalition also gave me a chance to meet Luke Bornheimer, a co-founder of SF Bike Bus, and I was happy to meet him in person.
A few weeks later, I travelled to Vancouver, British Columbia and with help from a former student, Emily Bardutz, I connected with HUB Cycling. In Vancouver I presented online, in a session moderated by Jonathan Mak, and organized by Cathy Acuna. A recording of the presentation given in Vancouver can be seen on the YouTube channel of HUB Cycling.
I am grateful to the team and SF Bike Coalition and HUB Cycling for giving me the chance to share the exciting work coming out of Barcelona. I hope we can work together in the near future.