Porto Cycling Case Study: How Bike-Friendly Can a Hilly City Be?

cycling in porto

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With its rich history and stunning landscapes, Porto is the gem of the north of Portugal. Regarded for its wine, its cuisine, and its soul, the city has become an increasingly popular destination for tourism and relocation over the last few years.

Like many other countries in Europe, Portugal has made commitments to become more sustainable by reducing its carbon footprint. It’s also made pledges to improve the walkability and user-friendliness of its streets.

One key aspect of Porto’s future is its commitment to bike-friendliness. In spite of the geographical challenges posed by the hills, more and more bikes are seen on the streets. But, how truly friendly is a hilly city like Porto for cyclists, and what’s being done to improve cycling in the city? 

In this article, we’ll look at how cycling is being promoted in Porto, the current bicycle usage statistics, the development of Porto’s cycling infrastructure, and the city’s investment in cycling to find out how bike friendly Porto really is.

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Porto: A Hilly City Encouraging Cycling

Cycling in a city as hilly as Porto may initially seem challenging, but the city has taken proactive measures to make cycling more accessible and appealing.

The municipality has been implementing initiatives to encourage cycling as a mode of transportation, aiming to reduce congestion, improve air quality (aiming to cut CO2 emissions by half by 2030), and enhance the overall livability of the city. These initiatives include the expansion of cycling infrastructure and the promotion of cycling culture through events and awareness campaigns.

There’s been a gradual implementation of bike friendly streets and bike lanes across the city, but these are noticeably part of the bigger picture of sustainable transport options, both for residents and visitors.

There’s also a huge number of rental bikes available across the city, many of which are available at ‘sharing points’, along with electric scooters and e-bikes. 

image credit: lawrence goozee

Bicycle Usage in Porto (Statistics)

There are unfortunately limited statistics related to bike usage in the city, and it’s impossible to discern the number of bikes or the number of cyclists in Porto.

Whilst the city has seen an increase in cycling generally, it’s still ultimately considered to be based on a car-centred mobility model.

  • The modal share of cycling in Porto was around 0.4% in 2017, which is even lower than Lisbon (0.5%). – Boost.Up
  • In 2017, Bicycle trips in Porto lasted on average around 36 minutes and covered an average distance of 9.5 km. – Boost.Up
  • More than 60% of trips in the Porto are made with a car, with an occupancy rate at a dismal low of around 1.5. – Boost.Up

Following the global trend, there’s also been a large number of bike rental schemes introduced into the city of Porto, and whilst they appear to be useful for both residents and visitors, they are still enormously outnumbered by cars.

What you are likely to see in the city is a number of e-bike tours specifically for visitors. Since the majority of locations of historical interest are easily reached by e-bike, they make a great candidate for those hoping to cover ground in a small amount of time. In fact, many are specifically chosen in order to facilitate hill climbs.

image credit: lawrence goozee

Cycling Infrastructure in Porto 

To accompany the rising popularity of cycling, Porto has been making significant improvements to its cycling infrastructure. The city has been adapting its streets and roads to become more cyclist-friendly with bike parking facilities and bike-sharing programs.

There is, however, still a lack of secure locations to store your bike in the city.

  • As of 2020, there were 72 bike racks, but this only amounts to just over 500 spaces. There were plans to increase the number of spaces by over 100, but it’s unclear if these were successful. – Porto.PT

There’s also been an increase in the number of bike-sharing programs, the majority of which are mixed with other forms of micro mobility.

image credit: lawrence goozee

Bike Lanes in Porto

Porto has in recent years implemented a number of cycle paths in the city, which now amount to around 50 km. Whilst this may not seem so much, it’s pretty impressive considering the limitations of the infrastructure.

The historical and touristic centre is still somewhat neglected however, and the developments are predominantly following the flatter terrains which extend out of the centre of the city and connect to the suburbs.

Here’s a few interesting facts about the bike lanes in Porto.

  • The faculties of the Asprela Campus and the Hospital São João are connected via a cycle path.
  • There are 10 km of cycling routes within the city park.
  • The number of bike lanes increased from 15 km in 2020 to around 50 km. – Porto.PT
  • After renovation work,  general car access is now prohibited in the lower part of the Ponte D. Luís. Whilst buses can still pass, this is great news for the cyclists who will inevitably feel more secure when crossing.

The expansion of bike lanes has in theory been a priority for the municipality, with a focus on connecting key areas outside of the historical centre and creating a comprehensive network of cycling infrastructure. Whilst there has been action, more needs to be done in order for Porto to be a truly bicycle friendly city.

porto spend on cycling

Porto Spend on Cycling

Porto has allocated funds for the development of cycling infrastructure and the promotion of cycling culture—investments that reflect its commitment to creating a greener, more livable city for residents and visitors alike.

However, the exact figures are not as specific for Porto as they are for the country as a whole.

  • There is a pledged €1.7 million investment to connect Porto to Matosinhos (the coastal city adjacent to Porto) with an 8 km bike lane. – Porto.PT
  • Before 2030, the country hopes that there will be 960 kilometres of cycle paths, many of which will be in Porto. There is an estimated €300 million that will be invested. – Porto.PT
  • In 2021, monitoring systems were installed to better understand how people travel around the city. – Porto.PT

porto cyclng rules

Cycling Rules in Porto

Cyclists in Porto are not bound by any specific rules, although there are those which apply to the whole country.

  • Cycling over the bridges in Porto is permitted, although there must be respect for other road users.
  • Cycle on the right hand side of the road and not on the pavement (if not in a bike lane).
  • Be careful of changing terrain, such as with the cobbles etc.
  • Obey the speed limit.
  • Use hand signals to indicate intention.
  • On roundabouts, you can stay in the right hand lane (as long as you do so with safety).
  • Maintain a lateral distance from cars of 1.5 metres.

Whilst people do cycle over the top of the infamous Ponte D. Luís I (Bridge of Don Luís I), it isn’t necessarily clear whether this is permitted. Regardless, if you do choose to cycle over the top, be cautious of both the pedestrians and the trams coming from both directions.

image credit: lawrence goozee

Is Porto Investing in Urban Mobility?

Porto recognizes the importance of investing in various modes of urban mobility. In addition to its efforts to promote cycling, the city has been making significant investments in micro-mobility solutions and improving its public transport systems.

As part of its commitment to sustainable urban mobility, Porto has been working on enhancing its metro system, with plans for expansions and improvements currently underway. These will constitute an improvement on an already impressive Metro system.

There’s also been a renewal and modernisation of the city buses, making them more environmentally friendly.

In terms of micro-mobility, e-scooters and e-bikes have become increasingly popular, and sharing stations have been implemented across the city.

On the whole, cycling accounts for a small part of investment in Urban Mobility in Porto. In combination with other forms of transport, cycling helps to create a more accessible city both for those who live in and those who visit Porto.

image credit: lawrence goozee

Is Cycling in Porto Safe?

The safety of cyclists in any city is a top priority, and Porto is no exception. The city has been taking steps to create a safe environment for cycling, despite its hilly terrain.

While challenges such as steep gradients, road conditions and the sometimes adverse weather exist, Porto’s focus on expanding cycling infrastructure and implementing traffic management measures aims to mitigate these risks. Unfortunately, these investments are largely outside of the historical centre, where cycling continues to be more challenging.

There are some areas where car access is conditional, such as the shopping street of Santa Catarina, but these are limited.

It’s crucial for cyclists to remain vigilant, adhere to traffic rules, and practise defensive cycling techniques to ensure their safety in Porto.

porto addresses cycling accidents advocates for speed limits and protected lanes for safety

Cycling Accidents in Porto 

Cycling accidents in Porto, including cycling-related deaths and injuries, are a concern that the city is actively addressing.

In 2018, there was a large protest in the city after Patrizia Paradiso, a cyclist in the city, was killed in a collision with a car.

Unfortunately, bicycle related accidents are still fairly common. Organisations are fighting to create awareness amongst all road users of the vulnerability of some groups.

One way in which the severity of accidents can be reduced is to implement (and enforce) speed limits of 30 km/h across the city, which has been shown to be successful in other cities across Europe. There is still a tendency for many drivers to drive fast.

With the introduction of car-free areas, as well as protected lanes for bicycles, we can expect to see the number of incidents drop.

Porto’s commitment to reducing accidents and promoting cycling safety remains unwavering, although some have argued that not enough is being done.

porto faces bike theft challenge; advises strong locks cautious storage, community vigilance

Bicycle Theft in Porto 

Bike theft, unfortunately, remains a challenge in many cities, including Porto.

While specific statistics on bike theft in Porto are limited, it is essential for cyclists to take precautions, such as using sturdy locks and securing their bikes properly.

It’s best practice to avoid keeping your bike out of sight outdoors unless absolutely necessary. Lock it indoors if you can, and use measures to make it less attractive to potential thieves.

Community involvement, vigilant watchfulness, and reporting suspicious activities can help combat bicycle theft and create a safer environment for cyclists.

image credit: lawrence goozee

Is Porto Bicycle-Friendly? 

Considering the city’s efforts to promote cycling, develop cycling infrastructure, and prioritise the safety and accessibility of cyclists, Porto can be considered a reasonably bicycle-friendly city.

The bicycle is part of the life stories of many people in Portugal, stories of fun and happy childhood moments. My mission is to make that a reality for nowadays children and youth.

Vera Diogo, Bicycle Mayor of Porto

Porto is becoming more cycle-friendly, yes, but it’s a long way to go until cycling is as popular or normalised as it is in other European cities of a similar size.

It’s also unlikely that the historical centre will ever become entirely bike friendly, largely due to its narrow, cobbled streets which are so famously covered on foot.

If you are visiting Porto, hiring an e-bike is an excellent way to get around to visit the major monuments. But, for those living there, the infrastructure is underwhelming and doesn’t serve the whole city. This, however, is changing, albeit slowly. 

Ultimately, whether or not you can cycle to work in Porto seems to largely depend on your route. Whilst efforts are being made, some routes are simply not practical for commuters to make on a bicycle.

A Porto Cycling Revolution?

As it stands, Porto is undergoing an urban mobility revolution and part of that vision includes cycling.

The city clearly has a focus on sustainable urban transportation and cycling, alongside other forms of mobility, is part of its vision to become a more responsible, environmentally friendly and livable city.

The combination of expanding cycling infrastructure and improving safety measures for cyclists reflects Porto’s commitment to creating a greener and more inclusive city. Whilst the steps taken have been small compared to other cities in Europe, they are nonetheless steps in the right direction.

Whilst cycling isn’t quite part of the everyday story of the people of Porto, that’s set to change, and there’s no doubt that it’s a city to watch when it comes to radical change on two wheels.

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