Two Olympic cities, two right wing mayors. He of London needs no introduction: the all-dancing, all-flying, all-cycling future superstar-Prime Minister of Britain, Boris Johnson.
Johnson, of the Conservative party, defeated his predecessor Ken Livingstone to become Mayor of London in 2008. 2012 saw him narrowly re-elected and proclaimed Olympic hero, and who knows what dizzying heights he will reach in the future.
Barcelona’s slightly less sexy mayor (maybe he needs some lessons in [Catalan President, Artur] Mas style) is Xavier Trias. Trias, candidate of the conservative (and now seemingly Catalan independentist) Convergence and Union (CiU) party, became Mayor of Barcelona in 2010; taking over from the socialist Jordi Hereu. Trias studied and worked as a doctor for many years, so one would expect him to be savvy as to how cycling can help improve health amidst all its other benefits.
Sensible looking chap isn’t he?
So are they cyclists then?
Boris’s cycling credentials are well documented. Amongst Londoners, anecdotes abound of having seen Boris blundering his way around the capital on his bike. Do an image search in Google for “Boris cycling” and you will be inundated with zany shots of the cycling Mayor. He was once even almost killed by a Lorry on his own London streets.
Although Trias claims to be a keen cyclist (“Soy aficionado a la práctica de deportes, como ir en bicicleta”), it is a little more difficult to find any evidence of this. Anyone who has seen him out and about, dodging pedestrians down Diagonal or something, please let me know.
What have they done for cyclists?
As well as the infamous “Cycle Superhighways”, Johnson’s main cycling achievement has been to carry out Ken Livingstone’s bike hire idea. Launched in 2010, it was actually modelled on existing schemes such as in Paris and Barcelona. The London scheme now has 8,300 bikes with 687 stations and is soon to be expanded, even to the backwaters of South West London.
Conversely, Trias cannot claim any credit for the Barcelona Bicing system. One of the first such schemes in the world, Bicing was launched in 2007 by the socialist Hereu. It now has 6000 bikes (all of which can be found at the beach) and 420 stations. Sounds great doesn’t it! Just imagine cycling happily around this beautiful city, soaking up the Mediterranean sunshine.
Not for Trias. Far from being a fan of the eco-friendly and stylish (well…) Bicing bikes, grumblings were heard from his camp about its cost even before he became mayor. Subsequently, rather than cleverly taking his opponents project and shaping it to help boost his own image like his PR-wise London counterpart (the Barclays bikes are commonly known as Boris Bikes), the Barcelona Mayor has been more reactionary and negative in his handling of Bicing.
While Johnson has recently announced the aforementioned expansion of Barclays Bike Hire, Trias’s Ayuntamiento have (gleefully and spitefully, one can almost imagine) made public that they will raise the annual fee of Bicing by a massive 116%, claiming lack of funds to be the justification (I have no idea why they cannot introduce sponsorship as in London).
But what is disappointing is the rhetoric. Barcelona Metropolitan quotes deputy Barcelona mayor Sònia Recasens: “The deficit generated by Bicing is intolerable; it’s a service valued by users, but that is very expensive for the city.”
Johnson, on the other hand, proudly proclaims that “Every Londoner should be able to take advantage of our hugely popular and iconic Barclays Cycle Hire scheme which has already brought untold benefits to London’s commuters, businesses and visitors alike.”
Trias instead has had the bright idea of throwing even more Motos (albethey electric) onto the streets of Barcelona. For that there is money! His idea is to create a similar hire scheme, this time for electric scooters; using Bicing stations as charging points.
Well, at least they’ll have plenty of space.
The Bicing price hike is perceived by some to be a threat to its very existence and there is already a twitter campaign to help save it (#SalvemElBicing) from Trias’s murderous hands.
But why does he hate it so much? This interview with the ex – transport minister Francisco Narváez suggests that it is because he is a conservative politician “El hecho de que el señor Trias esté en contra de la bicicleta en definitiva es la mejor demostración de que la política del señor Trias y de Convergència es conservadora.” But we know from the example of Johnson that this is not always the case. Maybe it is a case of simply being jealous of a good idea that was not yours.
Yet what a shame that the medically-trained Trias cannot recognise the health benefits of getting more Barcelonins active and that he cannot consider (as we have seen Johnson do above) the economic benefits that increasing cycling brings to a city.
Even worse is Trias’s indulgence in Daily Mail-esque cyclist bashing. He has talked of a conflict between cyclists and pedestrians (“auténtico conflicto entre peatones y ciclistas”) and has recently announced that from 2013 it will be illegal for cyclists to ride on the pavements of Barcelona. Not to mention proposals to make helmets mandatory.
However much you may agree with these ideas (and a large number of Barcelona cyclists do need educating), it is the anti-cycling hostility, tone and apparent desire to eradicate cyclists from the streets that Trias seems to demonstrate that is so worrying.
Johnson is not, of course, above pandering to anti-cycling hysteria. He recently claimed that most cyclists killed on the roads had broken the law, before later admitting that this had just been something he’d heard someone say in a meeting. Crazy old Boris.
It is a shame that both mayors have to resort to such silliness instead of doing something more positive, like helping to educate their citizens on road safety and respect and seeking to create a shared environment (with less cars…cough cough…).
Speaking of road safety
So far, during Johnson’s tenure, the number of cyclists killed on London streets seems to be going up; with 16 people killed in 2011. However, perhaps we need to take into consideration the number of cyclists, which has doubled since 2000. The Economist states that around 540,000 bike trips are made in the city each day. In Barcelona, in 2011, 2 cyclists were killed, with around 111,000 daily journeys.
Encouragingly, Trias has recently been making whisperings about cyclist safety and has promised a full review into the safety of the city’s cycle lanes as well as the creation of 5000 extra bicycle parking spaces in the coming years. (Or, again, is he more interested in indulging the anti-cyclist brigade moaning about the shared-space pavements?)
How far Johnson has helped cyclists in London is debatable. Even the biggest Boris-hater, however, would have to admit that he has at least helped to bring cycling into the spotlight and does seem to be moving (or being pushed by cyclists) in the right direction. For example, his review into dangerous junctions and roundabouts has actually materialised.
Most positively though, is that with every trip I make to London I am amazed by the sheer increase in cyclists; and how many more there are than in Barcelona.
Less positively, Johnson has also been widely criticised for his bullish attitude towards cycling safety. He once described a horribly dangerous London roundabout as “perfectly negotiable…if you keep your wits about you.”
Words that sound more like the macho postering of a lycra-clad cycle warrior than wise words of a sensible city Mayor. Yet at least we can identify with him as a cyclist.
Trias, for me, seems to be perversely opposed to his city becoming a cycling paradise (including all those leg muscle-building hills!) and stubbornly moving in his own old-fashioned direction. Although I am happy to be proved wrong (and seriously, do let me know if I am mistaken about Trias here).
Whatever the case, both men need to take a leaf out of a certain mayor of a certain city not too far away from London or Barcelona’s book….