Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Barcelona bicycle numbers

In the website of the Barcelona City Council for mobility you can find  the full report of Barcelona basic data of mobility for 2010 (pdf, in Catalan). There is also a brief report for 2011, but the last complete one is for 2010. The report contains very interesting bicycle data.

2009 2010 09/10 (%)
Bicycle transport share 2,07% 1,99% -3,9
Bicycle trips 102.824 106.520 3,6
Bike lanes/path km 146,8 159 8,3
% of streets with bicycle lanes/paths -- 12,10% --
Bicycles using the bike lanes/paths -- 42,10% --
Bicycle parking 20.402 21.387 4,8
Registered users of "Bicing" 182.062 117.523 -35,4
Daily average users of "Bicing" 33.415 34.585 3,5
Number of "Bicing" trips 10.769.256 11.147.000 3,5
Public cost by "Bicing" trip (EUR) 1.3 1.26 --
Public cost by bus/metro trip  (EUR) -- 1.24 --
"Bicing" share in total bicycle use -- 28,70% --
Bicycle accidents 513 414 -19,3

The report includes an interesting map of bicycle traffic density in Barcelona.

Intensitat de trànsit de bici a Barcelona (any 2010)

Bicycle in Barcelona: A (ridiculous) share of 2%

As I mentioned in a previous post, Barcelona is in third position in the Copenhagenize Index (?). The question is if a city with a 2% of share could be in that position, taking into account that many European cities have much higher numbers:  +30% in Ferrara (Italy), +30% in most Dutch / Danish cities and +40% in Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

To get an idea of what represents a 2% in Barcelona itself, this is more or less the same people who use a taxi (2.8%), a van / truck (2.7%), people who accompany someone else in a car (2.5%), who use the Catalan Railway Company (1.9%), or the discretionary bus (1.7%). In contrast, 11.9% use the bus, 14.8% the metro, 6.2% the motorcycle, 9.5% the car, and 45.5% go on foot. Bicycle is very far from the figures of that second group, which includes the main transportation means used by people.

12.1% of city streets with bike lanes

Roughly only 1 of every 10 streets in Barcelona has a bike path/lane (I'm very generous calling them "path/lane"). The report of the Barcelona City Council gives another figure, but I’m not sure I understand it really. It says that 28% of the total road network is for bicycles. I guess that includes 30 km/h areas, areas in which it has not been proven at all that there has been an increase in the use of the bike. Indeed, last information about 30 km/h areas is that there has been an increase of accidents.

Bicycle stands, considerable number but insufficient

In Barcelona city you can be sure about at least one thing: if you don’t secure professionally your bike, it will be stolen in just a few hours. So 21,000 bicycle stands is a very low number in a city of 1.5 million people. And if you want to increase the use of the bike, you need MANY MORE bicyle stands.

Bike lanes that are not used 

It is very worrying that only 42% of the bicycles uses bike lanes. This means that 58% use mainly the sidewalk. You can consider that Barcelona is a Mediterranean city; ok. The result is that in Barcelona there is a public debate about bicycles in sidewalks, with most people claiming to put an end to bicycle use (bicycle is good to do exercise in the wekeends, you know). This true conflict was generated by the incorrect City Council lanes design.

My opinion about the reasons why people do not use the bike lanes are basically two:

- Lack of control of the discipline of bicycle users.

- A completely inadequate design of many of the city's bike lanes.

Is Bicing (Barcelona’s bike share program) killing bicycle use?

We have a problem with Bicing. Bicing lost 35% of its subscribers between 2009 and 2010. That means 2 million EUR less, an amount that has to be paid by the City Council instead. Considering the number of Bicing trips, that means that the City Council pays 1.26 EUR for every Bicing trip. You must consider that the City Council pays 1.24 EUR for every metro/bus trip. In terms of users, Bicing is more expensive for the City Council that bus or metro services! And Bicing is, indeed, overwhelmed. It’s not a question of more users paying and using the service.

In addition, while the City Council is investing 14 million euros each year in the Bicing service, it only invests 1 million/year in bicycle lanes/paths. The Bicing share in total bicycle use in the city is only 28%. I think it has to be more proportional: the investment in bicycle lanes/paths benefits all bicycle users, whereas investment in Bicing benefits only a minor part.

To increase bicycle use you need to invest in infrastructure. If your investment in bicyvle promoting goes only to Bicing, you are avoiding an increase of general bicycle use.

Have a nice Barcelona. And remember, don't buy any Mexican hat here as a souvenir. We are Catalans, not Mexicans ;-)


  1. Thank you for this article. Far too much emphasis goes on bike share schemes, with far too little evidence of them having any real effect on modal share. The system in Barcelona is actually the most successful of all, but as you've shown, this doesn't mean much.

  2. I find this really interesting as it contradicts things I have previously read about Barcelona. which paint a very positive picture of cycling in the city. It is a wee bit disappointing to find the picture is not as rosy as I had been lead to believe :-(

  3. Kim, Barcelona has been the subject of much hype in recent years. Frankly, hype has been the main outcome of bike-share schemes. Much money is spent, but because none of the schemes have enough capacity to make more than a tiny percentage (usually less than 1%) difference to modal share, and little is done to make cycling more attractive in the cities where it is installed, it simply can't be effective.

    It's exactly the same story in Barcelona as in all the other bike-share cities. As I pointed out back in 2010, talking about London, "there are over a million bicycle owners in London. The Bike Hire bikes have increased the number of bikes in London by less than 1%. The problem is not a lack of bikes, but that Londoners in the main don't cycle because conditions for cycling in London, as with the rest of the UK, are terrible".

  4. "58% use mainly the sidewalk"? Don't you think there are people in Barcelona who ride with the traffic flow?

  5. Thank you for looking at the big picture.

    [Note, this comment must be given in three parts due to its size.]

    It was very interesting to receive this article because on that day, the day it was published, I had actually just arrived in Barcelona for the first time, and was in the process of analyzing the relationship between infrastructure and cycling in the BICY project ( So it gave me a much appreciated puzzle to work on while in the area.

    I spent several days pondering this during my visit, and even did some traffic counts and tours of the bikeways as well as cycling to the outer limits of the city to get a better understanding of the bicycle situation there.

    First I must say that bicycle data is notoriously unreliable and collected in inconsistent ways, making it further unreliable or incompatible to use for analysis and comparison. It can also be quite political, and I’ve heard from people from other cities who do not believe the figures for cycling in their cities, because funding is sometimes allocated based usage.

    Given this and my first impression, I was initially skeptical about the low cycling rates reported, particularly as in certain areas of the center one sees many bicycles. In fact the relatively low rates for everything but walking (45.5%!) presented a challenge.

    However, having taken a further look, it’s quite likely these numbers are reasonably accurate. Barcelona, like Paris, is one of the great walking cities, and high cycling in one area does not translate into high overall cycling.

    The low rates of cycling are also predicted by our model developed for cities in Central Europe, based on the amount of infrastructure present, although we would have estimated 4% not 2%, which given the many factors and the uniqueness of the city is still quite close.

    The unique diamond intersections where cyclists must made several rapid sharp turns were fun in a race course sort of way but struck me as dangerous and inconvenient, due to poor sight lines, tight turning, and unexpected conflict zones, although adaptation may reduce that risk considerably. However it probably further discourages cycling.

    Interviewing residents I heard repeatedly that the frequent stopping for red lights creates even more frustration, and leads to dangerous and aggressive behavior. We saw this repeatedly as drivers peeled out with screeching tires after waiting at red lights, even if cross traffic of pedestrians had not yet cleared.

    I had to wonder why not turn the diamond intersections into circles, probably removing some or all parking in the process), with many net benefits in noise and air pollution reduction, traffic calming, reduced wear and tear on the entire system (infrastructure and vehicles), and collision reduction, while presumably making it a more free-flow and bicycle-friendly environment.

    Observing the use of Bicing bikes, I noted they made up more than 50% of bicycle traffic in some central areas, at some times of the day, but in other areas made up much smaller percentages (and in large areas of the city that are not served, zero). Traveling with a group I saw how local Barcelona residents used the bicycles, in these cases enabling groups to travel together when some didn’t have bicycles.

  6. Part 2/3:

    In the end I certainly didn’t have time nor resources to conduct a full assessment, and respect the analysis in this article and the city’s publications. However I would like to put in some words of consideration in defense of the Bicing system:

    1. Cost justification
    While the system may cost a tiny bit more than the Metro or bus per trip, this is not a reason in itself to discontinue the service unless the Metro and bus systems should be discontinued as well (which, by the way, would be expected to increase bicycle use a lot, but likewise would increase motor vehicle use – the good news is bicycling has much more room to grow than car use, the bad news is motor scooters are almost as unlimited in their potential to increase, and carry worse emissions and noise pollution than cars for the most part). A bicycle trip has many benefits that a public transit trip does not, it deserves an even higher subsidy if need be. If we develop an ideal for traffic in Barcelona (choose your favorite), surely the total investment in cycling is much lower than it should be.

    2. Political avoidance of building bikeways
    Given that investment in cycling facilities is too low, the concern that the Bicing system is being used as an excuse for preventing development of a true and quality bikeway network is serious, and something raised other places (I’ve even heard officials in Montreal voice this regarding the BIXI system, for example).

    However, the fact that many times more are invested in Bicing does not have to mean nothing for infrastructure. There should be more for both.

    The kind of analysis presented here is a first step to action for an increase of funding for and implementation of infrastructure including secure parking.

    But the situation is not so bad: it is very encouraging that based on the official report, infrastructure increased 8.3% 2009-2010, and has steadily increased since the system opened after a long plateau last decade.

    Yes this needs to be much faster, but is better than many cities and increasing, and going in the right direction. Also good news, parking has increased a great deal since 2007, suggesting Bicing was related to increased bicycle parking (p. 57). Again too little but in the right direction.

    3. Suppression of cycling
    First I have to question that Bicing reduced cycling. If you look at the graph of bike trips per day, they nearly doubled when Bicing was introduced in 2007, and have only fallen slightly since then (see p. 55 of the 2010 report).

    Discussing with people in Barcelona about the concern that the system led to lower levels of cyclists and is contracting, local residents told me that the surge and contraction of membership had to do more with the promotions and newness at the beginning (many people encouraged to try and interested to try) coupled with the glitches in the system at the beginning (people encountered major system unreliability being unable to obtain a bicycle, and then unable to leave it, so gave up). These aberrations are normal in a new system, the thing to look for is the long-term trend which seems stable with higher ridership since its introduction. In fact the report supports this, particularly looking at the first two years.

    Whether there are more negative effects of a bikeshare system on ridership for some people, or on long-term growth potential, is of great interest, but needs more clear evidence.

    One bike rental operator told me he thought the system had increased private bicycle ownership and boosted bike shops, by allowing new cyclists to try bicycling and then realize having their own bicycle was better. (At the same time, he was deeply concerned about opening the system to tourists, because many bicycle rental businesses would collapse.)

  7. Regarding the slight decline of bicycle use in the one-year span 2009-2010, this seems troubling but is actually small, and may be a statistical anomaly. There is error in modal split surveys, which appears more exaggerated for small numbers (the same error in walking would not be noticed, like a regressive tax the minority is hit harder). It’s even possible the true number increased. Certainly it is possible the Bicing system encouraged some people to give up private bikes, because it was easier to use the bikeshare occasionally for them, but on balance many more people are cycling since its introduction. The problem is this is still far too small for the potential.

    It is also heartening that the total trips in Bicing, which should be a very reliable number, have increased by 377,744 2009-2010, although the rounded number for the higher 2010 figure suggests it’s approximate with unknown error.

    4. Bicycle behavior

    I did not see much evidence of bad cycling behavior during my stay, but it was a short stay. I don’t assume all non-bike lane trips are on the sidewalk, however; certainly I used the streets often, as in any city, and saw others doing so. (I’m also skeptical of any figure that attempts to know where all cyclists are, it’s not an easy task as recent GPS-based studies of just a fraction of cyclists attest.) However, there is a learning curve in any culture adopting cycling, and public support for education of cycling skills as well as sensitivity and awareness from non-cyclists should be added to the imperative goal of increased quantity and quality of infrastructure.

    My conclusion: cycling in Barcelona is on the rise. Bicing is not causing harm, it has overall helped. However, it must not become a barrier to major actions to increase cycling.

    The Copenhagenize Index recognized this by allowing it to score highly despite having very low cycling overall and a relatively poor network.

    Next steps are to consider the relationship of Bicing to bicycling (because scaling cycling begs for scaling Bicing, or changing its use), and to re-envision the relationship of all bicycling to the public transport system, as bike trips can be more direct, reliable and cheaper and will be preferred if people feel safe and accommodated to do so.

    A truly bicycle-friendly Barcelona would mean a shift from all other modes: motor vehicles as well as from public transport, and even a decline in walking. For this case, Barcelona must choose to be a bicycle city.

    Certainly from a public interest perspective the argument is strong: The money saved on more expensive modes more than justifies the investment in cycling; the cost is less to begin with, even before the tremendous benefits (health benefits, boosts to the local economy, and more, including tourism).

    Meanwhile, consider conversion of traffic signals where possible, particularly in the diamond-intersection areas, and installing roundabouts and shared space/slow zones in large areas of the city, hand in hand with new bicycle infrastructure and an array of new restrictions on driving both private cars and motor bikes (motorcycles and motor scooters).

    Picture this; if you like it, make it your goal; it can happen very quickly.

    A final note: this data is now almost two years old. It would be good to know the latest developments now that the system, and the public, have had more time to adjust. (And speaking of delays, my comment has been delayed first because I wanted to do more research, apologies for the time lag.)

  8. Thank you for this article. Far too abundant accent goes on bike allotment schemes, with far too little affirmation of them accepting any absolute aftereffect on modal share. The arrangement in Barcelona is in fact the a lot of acknowledged of all, but as you've shown, transportation in barcelona this doesn't beggarly much.

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