Who can forget the city of Seville, host to Velo-city 2011 and Spain’s bicycle darling. The local advocacy group ‘A Contramano‘ has just turned 25 years old and has many reasons to celebrate: cycling has increased more than ten-fold in the past couple of years. ECF speaks to one of its founders, Ricardo Marques.
The present situation? Well, we have a network of 120 km of segregated cycle tracks. More than 70,000 trips are made daily along this network on a typical business day. Seville has 700,000 inhabitants, and this means that bicycles make up 9% of all trips in mechanized vehicles (bicycles, car, vans etc.) or 5,6% of all trips when you take into account walking as well. Let’s not forget that back in 2006, there were no more than 6,000 trips made by bicycle.
There was a tradition of urban cycling at the University and some people, mainly students and professors, decided to join forces to form a group of activists that would support cycling as an alternative form of transport in the city. This was back in 1987. A few months later we decided to create the association.
“Let’s not forget that back in 2006, there were no more than 6,000 trips made by bicycle.”
In 1993, the year after the Universal Exposition in Seville, we organised a big bike demonstration with more than 10.000 participants. We did it again just after the creation of the cycle network, in 2007 with a similar number of participants, and with the presence of Miguel Indurain, the greatest Spanish cyclist of all times.
Regarding funny anecdotes, there are many related to our name. “A Contramano” in Spanish means to drive against the traffic, which is, of course illegal. It also means, in a wider sense, to think and act against mainstream thinking. We choose this name because of its double sense: we advocated for cycling “a contramano” (contraflow) in some streets, and also we felt that supporting cycling as a real alternative to urban transport was against current thinking in Seville and in Spain in those days. Many years later, the situation has changed and the association has since won the City award for its contribution to a better urban environment. I think it is the first time that an association with a name advocating for “illegal” behavior has won this award.
Sevilla is easily the Spanish city with the highest levels of cycling. This is probably because we combined a widely supported social movement with strong political will from the local administration. I feel that it was important that this political will resulted in a very uniform cycle network made of very safe cycle tracks, fully segregated from the motorized traffic.
“You should also understand that that this network was made in a very short period of time – only two years”
You should also understand that that this network was made in a very short period of time – only two years – and people found it useful from the very beginning. The network made it possible to go by bike from almost everywhere in the city right after its creation.
We organized many activities: conferences, meetings, bike promenades, and also specific activities for the associates. We are also doing a video, which will include the main moments of our celebrations. You can see the program on our website www.acontramano.org
Want some more statistics on cycling in Spain? Check out this recent Study in Spanish:
You can also see a presentation made by the organisation at Velo-city 2012 in Vancouver.
Ricardo Marques is 58 years old and a Full Professor of Physics at the University of Sevilla. He was also one of the founders of “A Contramano” in 1987. Since then he has been actively involved in the promotion of cycling as an alternative mean of transport. He was the President of “A Contramano” until recently (June 2012). He is currently working in the research and promotion of urban cycling through the Bike System of the University of Sevilla (SIBUS), where he is currently the Coordinator.