In March 2009, Carmen Portero started organizing gatherings of people that wanted to cycle in the city of Marbella. The cycling gatherings are not speed races, but a slow, relaxed and enjoyable way of moving in the city. Cycling is healthier, easier and quieter than driving, and is also environmental friendly. The last Saturday of each month, between 15, 50 and 100 people meet at 11am in the Plaza del Mar in Marbella to cycle through the city. This meeting is frequented by people from all ages and nationalities,… the bicycle is for everyone!
Carmen says that using the bike is not a desire of a picky group of people, but something that is beneficial and necessary for everyone. Lots of people have already realized that the car has become inefficient in the city, and that car maintenance and petrol is too expensive. Cars get stuck in traffic and pollute the environment, and there are not enough parking spaces either. On the contrary, the bicycle has lots of advantages because it is efficient, economic, enjoyable and keeps you fit. Once public transport and urban infrastructures for pedestrians and cyclist improve, the car will be relegated to a second place.
Carmen started organizing these gatherings because she felt powerless and scared of using her bike daily. She popped her head out of the window and looked down the road hoping for a day in which she would not to have to depend on the car for everything. Then, she thought to herself that there would be other people like her that were not brave enough to ride their bikes alone on the road. She asked the city council about any urban cycling schemes and received a negative answer, there were none.
She comments that in a slow city people are more likely to be relaxed and happy. She enjoys pedaling amongst people who have never rode their bikes on the road before, and when they tell her while cycling “this is the life”, she thinks to herself: yes, it is that simple. In each cycling gathering, she remembers the first time she rode on the road with a group of people. She remembers that the perspective from the bicycle allowed her to see the trees that she could not see before while driving her car. While riding with the group each month she feels safe and protected, freed and close to others. She is aware of her contribution to the city, to peoples’ health, and to the environment. She doesn’t know if she will succeed in making of Marbella a bicycle friendly city, however she will keep trying and enjoying every minute.
The city should be for people, and not for cars. It seems that some have forgotten that they are pedestrians and prefer to park their cars at the door instead of having their children playing in that space. Cars take most of the space in the city (roads and parking spaces), and they don’t even respect the few pedestrian spaces that are left. Let’s not even mention the spaces for cyclists, because in the city of Marbella there are simply no cycling infrastructures at the moment. Cars are everywhere and the authorities allow it, so you will find cars and motorbikes parked on pavements, stopped in the middle of avenues, double parked, in bus stops, in garage entrances, on pedestrian crossings and even driving at full speed.
The private car access to the city centre should be restricted to residents, emergencies, deliveries, taxis, public transport and bicycles. In the Marbella of the 21st century the pedestrian will be the main character and riding a bike will be fabulous.
We should encourage respectful attitudes and harmonious living in the whole city, sharing public spaces fairly, educating people to share and care for our city, and this should start with the example of city councils, police, schools, etc. We are here to live peacefully, and not to drive as if we were in a Formula 1 racing circuit.
There is the need for a cycling path that links Marbella with San Pedro and Elviria, and technical expertise should be sought for this purpose. Marbella should follow the example of cities such as Vitoria and Sevilla.
Carmen thinks we should be promoting more sustainable forms of transport. If car access was restricted in the city, people would realize that using a bike or public transport is much quicker and cheaper. Cycling paths should be an integral part of the mobility system of the city. She thinks that a fair amount of tourism would be attracted to Marbella, if the council focused on developing a cycle-friendly city. Sharing spaces, promoting social interaction, respecting the rules of shared spaces and organizing more cultural activities would be very attractive to tourists, particularly to residential tourists. It would be too costly to expand the infrastructures needed to accommodate the number of vehicles that infest Marbella, and in uncertain times such as these, focusing on sustainable mobility should be a wise investment for the future.
Marbella ByCivic has organised the first photographic competition “The Urban Bicycle”. A selección of the best images can be seen on their website or in the bar “La Estrellita” in the Hotel El Fuerte, Marbella, until 15th January 2012.
Become a member of this civic movement and join the gatherings that take place the last Saturday of each month at the Plaza del Mar, or visit the web