I was in Seville last week for the first time since February 2007, and in the intervening year there's been something of a transportation revolution in the city. It's most visibly evident in the Sevici bike-share bikes (bicis in Spanish) that are everywhere. The system launched in April 2007, and ultimately there will be 250 stations and 2,500 bikes spread throughout the city of some 700,000 residents.
I saw the bikes in use by locals in all parts of town, including the rather bleak office parks and university complexes on the west side of the Guadalquivir River. The cycles seem less popular among tourists, although they're a great way to get around the very flat terrain -- and, at 5 euros for a weekly membership with the first half hour of each ride free, and very reasonable rates for longer use, they're a good option.
One of the most amazing things to me was how quickly the city has put in an extensive bike-lane network. The green-painted lanes lead you for miles and miles through the city's neighborhoods, and as far as I could tell, they're all protected. In many places, this is done by putting the bike lane in the street shielded by a low concrete barrier -- enough to deter cars, but far less unsightly than the Jersey barriers used in some parts of New York. Elsewhere -- and here is the revelation, as far as I'm concerned -- the bike lane shared the sidewalk with pedestrians. Not once, in nearly a week, did I see this causing any distress to pedestrians or cyclists (although one resident did grumble to me, somewhat half-heartedly, about reckless cyclists).
Even where bike lanes aren't marked, the cycles are omnipresent, wheeling along the narrow streets of the old city (recently made off-limits to cars except for taxis and vehicles owned by residents), across the city's many plazas and through its parks. In a city famous for its automobile congestion, they have clearly captured the imagination and loyalty of many who live and work in Seville. I noticed many more people than I had before riding their own bikes, as well.
Nothing is perfect, of course. The first time I went to get a bike, the only one parked at the station nearest my hotel had a blown tire (it sat there like that for at least two days). I had to walk just about 300 meters to the nearest station, but there should have been a map on the rental kiosk telling me where that was -- and sparing me the 300 meters I walked in the wrong direction to begin with. At other stations I passed, there were no free parking spaces where I could have returned a bike. The bikes themselves, while perfectly serviceable, are heavy and clunky, and one I tried had handlebars that were skewed off-center. Still, the freedom of being able to get on a bike and ride was blissful.
The Sevici bikes aren't the only news in Seville's transportation network. The 1.3-kilometer tram line on the Avenida de la Constitución is up and running, too. According to my family members who live in town, this super-slick light rail line has caused a lot of controversy because of its short length and enormous cost, as well as the overhead electrical wires, which many deem unsightly. The local Socialist government has gotten criticism for the way the bids were handled (a not-uncommon state of affairs in Spain).
They're not my elected officials, of course, and maybe that's why it looked pretty good to me. The lovely street the tram runs on, previously clogged with cars, is now pedestrian- and bike-friendly. And the trams I saw were filled with passengers, mostly sevillanos, who obviously found the service useful. The line will link with the underground metro, slated to open later this year after many delays. All this in addition to an excellent and very frequent bus service.
Now if the planners in Madrid, where the traffic is still murderous, would only look south to this Andalusian capital for inspiration.
Photos: Sarah Goodyear