James reports from Sevilla

Seville : The fourth best cycle city in the world!

This story is part of our youReport series.

UPDATED 17 June 2013

I am living in Seville over the summer for work reasons and have been cycling around the city for almost two months, James reports. It has been interesting to compare Seville with Newcastle/Tyneside, especially as they have a similar population (Tyneside 1.65 million, Seville 1.52 million – according to wikipedia anyway). Here’s a brief overview of a few different aspects of cycling en Sevilla!

Copenhagenize named Seville as their 4th best cycling city in their Cycle City 2013 league table. Their report highlights that Seville increased their modal share of cycling from 0.5% in 2006 to 7% in 2013 due to ‘visionary political will’. Other factors that Seville scored highly on were infrastructure and bike sharing. These factors raised Seville to fourth despite having a lower modal share than some other cities higher up the league table.

Cycling Infrastructure

The local government took the decision to increase cycling in the city partly as an attempt to curb congestion – the city has four rush hours per day due to the Spanish siesta. Once the decision was made, 80km of cycle lanes were installed within a year.

There is a mix of infrastructure types across the city, though the dominant approach seems to be two-way bike paths which generally follow, but are segregated from, the biggest roads. In the old centre the roads tend to be narrow and cobbled so separation is generally not possible, though traffic speeds are kept low there due to the physical constraints.

Some of the approaches to cycling infrastructure are more successful than others, with the quality varying from area to area. For example, the route past the cathedral [picture below] is kept quite low profile, presumably to avoid taking anything away from the historic surroundings. Unfortunately it’s a little too subtle and pedestrians walk all over it. As many paths are built down one side of a road only you can end up having to follow torturous routes to get where you want to go. However, though this can be a little annoying, sacrificing some speed for much better safety is probably the better option to get more people on bikes and reach a cycle modal share of 7%!

Some bike paths have taken away space from pedestrians though most were installed at the expense of on-road car parking (fascinating before and after pics here: http://t.co/sRgDHn01We – click on headline to download pdf 6Mb)

So, there is very good provision of cycling infrastructure which makes the city accessible by bike to everyone. It is true that there aren’t bike lanes on every road and some parts of the network aren’t perfect but overall I think it’s great! It is also impressive that so much was achieved in such a short space of time.

Read more below, Sevici – Seville’s bike hire scheme and transport culture

So… what’s the verdict

Seville is a good city to use as a comparison with Newcastle, being of a similar size and given that prior to its cycling-popularisation programme it also had low levels of cycling. The infrastructure put in place has greatly increased the number of people choosing to cycle. There are still a lot of cars on the roads so maybe Spanish motorists need more encouragement to switch to 2 wheels, which would help increase the modal share of cycling from 7% to the European Cyclists’ Federation’s target of 15%. Taking some more roadspace away from motorists may help in this regard. Also, you really have to hope that the proposed mandatory helmet legislation currently passing through the Spanish parliament does not succeed or it is likely to obliterate all of Seville’s progress.

I note that Newcastle City Council revised their target for cycling modal share in their recent Cycle City Ambition Fund bid down to 12% [ possibly superseding the 20% target of all short journeys done by bike by 2020 in the city’s Cycle Plan… /ed.]. The city of Seville has done a lot of work and still has not reached this level, meaning Newcastle/Tyneside may need to improve upon Seville’s approach in order to achieve this aim.


Photo 1 – Two-way bike path adjacent the river Guadalquivir, separated from motorised traffic by a raised planter. The paths are also popular for rollerbladers and skateboarders. Curiously some are marked as wheelchair paths in certain areas.

Sevilla Collage 1
Photo 2 Left – The metal studs here denote a cycle path between cafes and tram tracks, with Seville Cathedral to the right. Picture taken at 11am when the area is quiet. Many tourists don’t realise there is a bike route here so walk all over it.
Photo 2 Middle – Two-way cycle path through a pedestrian area in the Cartuja area.
Photo 2 Right – One-way bike path separated from motorised traffic with plastic bollards.

Sevilla Collage 2
Photo 3 Left – Stretch of two-way bike path between parked cars and a slim strip of footpath.
Photo 3 Middle – Shared pedestrian and bike walkway separated from and raised above road level on the Alamillo Bridge.
Photo 3 Right – Some typical commuters on the Barqueta Bridge


The culture here is very car-centric. There are many fast, multi-lane roads surrounding the city centre and as bike paths are kept off-road I believe any bikes on the road are perceived by drivers as being ‘in their way’. The strategy of installing bike paths separated from these fast roads has created a safe solution that I think encourages people of all ages to cycle. In Newcastle it is my experience that it is usually only the hardiest of people who dare consider cycling as a serious method of transport. Cycling in Seville definitely feels more normal and accessible.

It is rare to see people wearing specialist clothing to cycle, the ones I have seen tend to be more serious sports riders heading out of the city to do mountain biking. The majority are riding as transport; commuting, shopping or socialising, and are wearing clothes appropriate for those purposes.

Photo 4 – This is a typical crossing where the bike path meets a dual carriageway. A pedestrian crossing is on the left and a cycle-crossing is highlighted with solid paint on the road. There is a combined traffic light for pedestrians and cycles. Note the dog-walker is crossing in the bike section.

Bicycle Hire Scheme

There is a good bike hire scheme named ‘Sevici’, which is a combination of the words ‘Sevilla’ and ‘Bici’, run by the French company J.C. Decaux. They use the same system in Paris and many other cites. The bikes are quite simple, they have 3 gears, a large basket and dynamo-powered lights engaged at all times. They are also fairly heavy, but are manageable for short journeys around the city, which is their purpose after all!

Sevici will set you back around €13 for a week’s membership or €30 for an annual subscription. I think the annual subscription is good value if you are a resident as it would be cheaper than buying and maintaining your own bike. It also avoids the chance of it getting stolen and means you don’t have to waste time stripping lights etc off it on arrival. The first 30 minutes of every journey are free of charge so they are pretty much perfect to use to get to work or to get across town to your favourite bar or tapas spot (you can cycle across Seville in less than half an hour, it’s not very big).

The Sevici bikes are very popular and hence get a lot of wear and tear. Each one seems to have its own personality quirk… I’ve had everything from sticking gears, a saddle that refused to stay up and a missing hand-grip… though a friend had a bike with only one pedal so maybe I’ve been lucky! There are usually enough around for you to swap a dodgy bike for a better model.

Photo 5 – A fleet of Sevici’s 2 minutes walk from my workplace

Photo 6 – Close-up of the street studs, which are approx 4” in diameter with subtle bicycle imprint.