This is a gallery of images from a trip to Palma de Mallorca in late November 2016 where a multi-national group of ECF visitors was hosted by Biciutat de Mallorca, the local cycle campaigning group for the largest of the Balearic islands. And it certainly delivered, in particular the standout experience of cycling its beautiful seafront at sunset.
This might be a slightly unusual blog post for Mallorca because it is about the city of Palma’s urban cycling development instead of the more cycling sport and tourism which I have always associated with the island ever since the racing cycling community started using it as a base for “spring training camps”.
I was enthusiastic about going there because ECF’s Spanish group CONBICI selected Biciutat de Mallorca to host our autumn Workshop for emerging national cycle advocacy groups. Spain is perhaps southern Europe’s hidden success story in urban cycle campaigning because cities like Seville, Barcelona and Vitoria-Gasteiz are getting a reputation for some of the fastest growth rates ever seen in cycling cities, even from a very low base level. If CONBICI had selected Palma to host our visit there must be something interesting happening?
That something is an expectation based on the success of Joan Ferrer, appointed Councillor for Mobility after a change of political leadership at the last elections. Biciutat de Mallorca has achieved the Holy Grail of seeing one of its leading activists get into a position to implement a cycling masterplan for the city, so getting some international cycling attention for their work is an important way showing support.
We met Joan and the Major of Palma José Hila Vargas at the city’s main station for a two-hour evening cycle tour of the city which contained may of the elements that will be influencing the future plans. It is an interesting challenge because Palma is swamped by tourists in the summer, but the mobility priorities of the city council are about improving the lives of residents and workers. This means thinking about access from the residential suburbs outside the city core and being willing to challenge the car centric policies of the previous regime who were unwilling to challenge any parking spaces provision and really enforce car free policies in the city centre.
It is fair to say that right now they have absolutely everything you could possibly imagine in terms of cycling facilities. Bike lanes, cycle priority streets, cyclist’s priority roundabouts, shared bus lanes on big boulevards, cycling and walking shared space etc. etc.
If there is a definitive style and pattern it has yet to emerge, but these things will take some time. Joan did confess that it is not as easy to move quickly when you are in government, and he has to think about all modes of transport. (But we could tell that the cycling part was very close to his heart!)
It would be easy to critique some of the features – certainly the two-way bike lanes were far too narrow if the city anticipates any significant growth in cycling, but the better segregated sections should support timid riders to start up. Lots of cities would be very pleased to have this many cycle facilities already.
In the old city it was astonishing to realise that the current rules still allow cars even in some of the narrow historic streets, but the area of bike and pedestrian streets is expanding and the narrowness of the streets makes for natural traffic calming.
Although I am told that the main pedestrian areas are impassable by bike in the summer they were part of a great network for us to try on the three days I was in the city.
On the plus side the cycling priority streets were a great way to give cyclists a lot of space, I wasn’t really sure about how well drivers would respect them but I was impressed by the discipline, once were out in the middle we were never hassled.
I think the bold ambitions of the local activists have some way to go, but their passion means that Palma could be on the path to emulating some of its Spanish leaders.
And it has one crowning glory – the cycle route along the sea front may not have been made for urban use, it is more of a tourist ride but it makes a wonderful cycle route as the sun is beginning to set, especially with the glowing Cathedral of Mallorca as a backdrop.
Those views repeated themselves from various vantage points near the Cathedral and the Palace, morning and night. I do like cycling by the waterside, and this was a special spot. Thanks to our local hosts – and good luck!