Urban Cycling

Why Spain NEEDS to Spend €1.5 BILLION on Cycling in 2024

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Did you know that in 2024, one European Union (EU) country could transform into a true bicycle paradise?

Spain was awarded subsidies from the EU to improve its bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

But where some towns and cities need to catch up when it comes to implementing it, they risk losing access to millions of euros, Euronews reports


CYCLING IN CADIZ

What is the EU Funding For?

The European Union has a range of initiatives to promote and provide funding for sustainable growth. In 2021, Spain and other member states were awarded “climate change adaptation” subsidies.

These funds were made accessible following their Recovery and Resilience Proposals to the EU. Across the Union, this amounts to billions of Euros in grants and loans to be invested in, amongst other things, sustainable transport options, such as cycling and walking, with Spain’s subsidy totalling around €1.5 billion

Jump forward to 2024, and while there’s been some significant investment in the country, it’s been massively uneven, and Spain risks losing access to the funds. According to 20 Minutos, if by the end of 2024, Spain hasn’t completed a quarter of their planned work, it could be forced to return the money, missing out on a golden ticket to a cycling paradise.

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Why Did Spain Want Funding for Cycling?

Why did Spain want this funding in the first place?

Well, firstly, it’s to counter pollution. According to the UNEP, cities are responsible for 75% of global CO2 emissions, with transport being one of the key perpetrators.

Spain has big plans to reduce private car use by 35% over the next decade. Low-emission zones, sustainable transport, and bike-friendly infrastructure have all been part of the solution.

According to Euronews, another reason is that the funding can be used to extend bike-friendly programs, such as the popular rental schemes in the big cities of Barcelona and Madrid, to smaller, less developed municipalities. 


bike lane in seville
Bike Lanes in Seville. (Image Credit: Canva Pro)

Which Cities Are Leading The Way?

Of all of the trailblazing cities in Spain, none are more impressive than Sevilla. Just missing out on our list of the top car-free cities worldwide, it’s made enormous improvements to its bicycle infrastructure. 

After swapping a monumental 5,000 parking spaces for more than 50 miles of bike lanes, ridership has increased 11-fold in just a handful of years. Bearing in mind that this is one of the hottest cities in the whole of the continent, that’s pretty impressive.

Of course, we can’t forget Barcelona. Since 2016, Barcelona has increased its bike network from 130 to 230 km, an increase of over 75%! And it doesn’t stop there. With improved, safer bike lanes firmly rooted in their 2024 Mobility Plan, there’s never been a better time to bike in the Catalan Capital. Of course, the sunny weather doesn’t hurt either!


A bike lane in Amsterdam
A bicycle lane. Image credit: Canva Pro

Which Spanish Cities Haven’t Embraced Cycling?

But it isn’t all sunshine and derailleurs. Sadly, there’ve been some real challenges in other parts of the country.

The town of Elche has been actively removing bike lanes from its streets. According to the Guardian, the source of tension might be political. The new right-wing coalition in the region is all about supporting cars, putting drivers’ parking preferences above keeping cyclists safe. The outcome? Pricey removals and some very unhappy cyclists.

Looking at one removal in the town, X user David Lois commented that it’s like regressing to the 1970s when cars were given free rein over the streets.

And Elche isn’t the only one. It seems like Barcelona might be backtracking on the progress it’s made. Socialist mayor of Barcelona Jaume Collboni is repurposing pedestrianized areas to create more parking spaces. In fact, in his election campaign, he branded his opponent, the former mayor, as the ‘anti-car’ candidate

While he has offered financial incentives for citizens who exchange their conventional cars for hybrid or electric ones, it doesn’t address the concern that pollution isn’t the only problem caused by cars.


Another new bike lane appearing in Chiclana de la Frontera

What Happens Now?

According to some observers, if the current conflict continues, Spain might be forced to return some of the money that it was previously allocated. Esther Díez, former councillor for mobility in Elche, noted that,

We must bear in mind that Elche has received about 15 million [in] European funds that are in danger if the low emissions zone is not developed, because these funds are on the condition that the entire area has guaranteed air quality in the city.”

Esther Díez via EuroNews

And Díez has a point. If the money was awarded to promote sustainability, it’s hard to see how spending nearly 40,000€ on removing a bicycle lane will simultaneously improve air quality. Whilst there have been some excellent green projects and proposals, it seems like some are undermining the progress that has been made.

The progress of the green projects that have received funding will be reviewed in 2024, and if they aren’t well underway, some recipients could be forced to return millions of euros. 

When it comes to green development, Spain is at a crossroads. On the one hand, it’s been commended for a radical rail transformation that saw not only the modernization of its train system but also huge incentives to travel with it, such as heavily discounted or even free tickets!

But on the other, some towns are taking the paving out from under cyclists’ wheels. 

Greenpeace has warned that if Spain does not drastically cut its emissions, it will feel the effects of climate change stronger than ever before. According to them, Spain experiences a 1.5-degree temperature rise for every degree of global warming

With the help of the EU, Spain has the financial and environmental incentives to transform itself into a greener country, and it’s in a race against time to do so. If the money isn’t invested properly before the end of the year, dreams of seeing Spain transform into a bicycle paradise in 2024 might not become a reality.

FUNDING SIGN NEXT TO NEW BIKE LANES IN CHICLANA DE LA FRONTERA

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