I spent some time last fall in the Newport Beach Bike Safety Committee; it was my first civic involvement. Many of you know through your own involvement, progress can take time. Entrepreneurs do not typically have patience; I compensate by critiquing.
I never rode a bicycle last week in Barcelona, but only because I didn’t know where to go and the pedestrian routes were so glorious. So let me start over…
Since I’ve returned from a week in Spain I daydream of the opportunities a huge earthquake would bring. No, too morbid! But how could we here in Los Angeles… Oh, got it; here’s the start:
The one question I wasn’t prepared for, “Where are you from?”
I stumbled, as if I wasn’t sure, or as some must’ve thought, I was
trying to keep secrets. Corona del Mar? I knew no one would know.
Answering Newport Beach would inevitably have me repeating, “yeah,
half-way to San Diego” and aren’t we all sick of that explanation, so,
Los Angeles, naturally.
I’d read that Barcelona was a lot like LA: sprawl into the mountains with a gorgeous climate. Certainly warmer than we’ve been this summer, so I felt prepared; I knew what I’d be in for. But nothing prepared me for what a great pedestrian and cycling city I would find. Amsterdam, sure I can hear you counter, but you’ll need fenders and a rain coat. This was cycling in a modern metropolitan paradise. Let me describe.
You know where I’m heading. Yes, I’d love to see Newport Beach incorporate some of
the recommendations of the Bike Safety Committee, but that would only be a drop
in the bucket compared to the sights I saw last week.
What brought me to Barcelona? A wedding, a totally over-the-top wedding of two young friends, one from here (groom) and one from there (bride); thirty year olds have never looked so young to me before! I travel to conferences all over the world, but it had been 6 years since my wife joined me in Europe. This would be an excuse to take a whole week and indulge, celebrate our own 36th anniversary.We walked all over town. My feet soon wore down, so I hopped in a pedicab, like you’ll see in San Diego’s Gaslamp area, but mostly we walked. The grand boulevards were so quiet compared to, say our Jamboree or Coast Hwy. I’d downloaded the Barcelona Metro app, so we could find our way around underground, too. It was clean, immaculate really, and well-used. That gave city planners much leeway to reconfigure surface streets for wide sidewalks, giant sized, lining most avenues. Many streets had sidewalks and center walks, too. These pedestrian lanes down the middle of the street were the preferred places for the outdoor cafe seating that every coffee shop, pastry, wine bar, and tapas restaurant set umbrellas and chairs upon. Auto traffic would be squeezed into only one or two lanes and no one expected to make time while driving through these neighborhoods, so no one seemed to try. Picture it, every waiter had to schlep their orders from the kitchen, across the sidewalk, across the traffic lane onto the center walk; I wondered about the liability insurance requirements, I confess, but everything worked like a charm. Cyclists had their choice of pedaling down the center walk, the sidewalk or in the street.There was room for them everywhere. Lots of bicycle racks, too. You know, the good ones like they have in Huntington Beach under the pier (I have to mention because you won’t find them anywhere in Newport Beach). And now I know why the big inverted U is the most desirable bike rack design: Barcelonans locked both front and rear wheels, and not with one long chain; they were doing the belt and suspenders: the big solid U locks, one for each wheel. They’re heavy; I won’t even carry one, so this started looking like trouble in paradise. Then I saw the bicing rental racks. Tourists would have to rent from a traditional bike rental vendor, but residents could register online, get their key to unlock the bicing cycle and ride it anywhere around the city. And I mean anywhere! See map. Ride one-way or round trip. Yes, they were considerably heavier than that fancy road bike in your garage, these were durable single speed bikes with a rack on the front and fenders front and back. Keep in mind, Barcelona is flat; you could go anywhere, dressed any way, on one of these bicing cycles.
It took a couple of days for all this to sink in. Barcelona has harnessed the automobile and put it in its place, not let it rule the roads of their inner city. The result, a wonderfully walk-able, pedestrian friendly urban environment with hoards of shoppers and tourists and jam packed cafes.
Next visit, I plan to ride.