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Seville’s cycling revolution offers a blueprint for other cities to follow

Seville, Spain. Photo: Jose Ramon Pizarro Garcia/Dreamstime
Seville, Spain. Photo: Jose Ramon Pizarro Garcia/Dreamstime

By Mark Wagenbuur

The Dutch are often asked: What scientific proof is there that a robust cycling network leads to increased and safer cycling? In the Netherlands, this question is challenging to answer due to the absence of a clear “zero situation” — cycling infrastructure has long existed in some form, and cycling culture has deep roots. However, the city of Seville in Spain provides an interesting case study, as it transformed from minimal cycling activity in the early 21st century to a vibrant cycling climate today.

In 2006, Seville had just 12km of separated cycling paths, with a meagre cycling modal share of 0.5%. Advocates for cycling infrastructure had been pushing for change since 1992, and their plans gained momentum when the United Left (UI) political party adopted them. The UI’s electoral success in 2003 led to a coalition with the Socialists, solidifying cycling plans in the city’s governance.

Tasked with the ambitious plan was José García Cebrián, Seville’s head of urban planning and a long-time cyclist himself. He envisioned a network of protected cycle paths, physically separated from motor traffic, to make cycling accessible to all ages and at slow speeds, even in everyday clothes. What set Seville apart was its commitment to completing an 80km cycling network in one go, with most of the required space repurposed from motor traffic.

While initial planning faced minimal opposition, challenges arose during construction. As Cebrián explains, the lack of resistance during planning was typical in Spain, where cycling plans often remained on paper. The real opposition surfaced during construction, but by then, the city had committed to the transformation.

The first 77kms of protected cycling infrastructure, concentrated around the city centre, were completed in under two years (2006-2007). By 2011, the network had expanded to 164km, constituting 12% of the city’s total road length. Presently, in 2024, the network is over 180km, linking key destinations with residential areas.

The immediate success was evident in the surge of daily cyclists, increasing from 6,000 to over 70,000. A 2014 survey highlighted that 6% of all trips, and 9% of non-commuter journeys, were made by bike. The cycle lanes had an additional advantage: they could also be used by wheelchair users, which suddenly made a lot of the city more accessible.

A key contributor to Seville’s success was the SEVici shared bicycle system, which now has 2,500 bikes and 263 stations. Operating as a public-private partnership with JC Decaux, the system provided an affordable option for those without storage space or the financial means for a bicycle.

Despite changes in city administration and policies, Seville’s commitment to cycling infrastructure remained steadfast. Between 2006 and 2011, the city invested 32 million euros in the cycling network. Research from the University of Seville from 2015 showcased its cost-effectiveness.

The construction costs were estimated at 0.27 million euros per km, with annual maintenance costs ranging from 250,000 to 350,000 euros. In 2011, the network was used for around 70,000 trips per day. For comparison, the first line of the metropolitan subway (18 km) cost the city around 35.2 million euros per km. This mode carried around 53,000 daily trips. The 21.5 km of metropolitan city highways under construction had a budget of 30.8 million euros per km, with expected average traffic of 50,000 vehicles per day.

In 2023, Seville’s cycle paths were used for 111,125 trips per day, though that includes trips on e-scooters. Bicycles alone accounted for 70,000 daily trips.

The success of Seville’s cycling transformation lies in a model prioritising not only safety but also ease and comfort for everyone.

Based on Dutch, German and Danish best practices, the network’s design focuses on continuity, cohesion, directness, visibility, and comfort. Building bi-directional paths, and ensuring swift construction, were deliberate choices contributing to the overall success.

In conclusion, Seville’s experience from 2006 to 2011 illustrates that rapid development of a segregated cycling network can be a powerful catalyst for integrating cycling into urban mobility. Seville serves as an inspiring example for cities globally seeking to enhance sustainable urban mobility.

* This article was first published by Bicycle Dutch. It was republished with permission.

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