14 March 2013

Two wheels (!)

The first motivation to write this post is my 6 months-living in Milano, where the traffic runs chaotic - a lot of cars, a lot of motos, a lot of public transports, a lot of bicycles, a lot of pedestrians, a lot of everything! And guess what? They don't really care about each other! (True fact is that I haven't seen a single accident in those streets during 6 months!). Cars don't care about bicycles, cars don't care about pedestrians, pedestrians don't care about bicycles, bicycles don't care about cars, buses don't care about pedestrians, buses don't care about cars... You got the picture.
And this is so true that a friend of mine, knowing that I'm studying Urban Planning, told me: "Ok, now you have been in a city where everything goes wrong, so I highly recommend you to go to a place where things work well!"
Nonetheless, it was my first time in a city where bicycles are one of the nr. 1 choices for most people to commute (never been in Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, though), and despite all the Milan craziness, after some weeks, I got used to it and started changing my mind and actually asking myself why in Portugal we still don't have this culture. Why bicycles and light modes of transportation aren't taking with good eyes? I have a few answers, but considering that could be a thesis, I'll not make this long and just tell you that: we (portuguese) are a cars-oriented-society and that cars give us status.

Anyway, the city I live in, Aveiro, created, some years ago, a big project about public bicycles that people could ride very easily and for free, named BUGA. From what I heard, it's a project well known internationally, but the truth is: it doesn't really work nor it was a success. Too bad. Even more because Aveiro is a very easy city to ride - flat city - and the municipality created some specific infrastuctures for bicyles as well - seriously debatable though.
The problem here (that could be extended to other situations) is/was/and always will be, in my opinion, that no matter what you do, big or small project, it will never work until you first invest in changing minds. Before any construction, changing minds in a society (especially one like ours) is really the 1st step one have to consider and then... Well, I believe things will work out for themselves.
Now, I must admit that I've started to see a lot of people riding bicycles in Aveiro and in my university campus there are a few parked around and nothing makes more pleased to see. I can feel some changes in the air already - I think it was a matter of time and some political efforts to revive our local heritage.
With that said, here's a recent (2011) video about Aveiro Lifecycle that I only watched last week and that inspired me to write about this.

My point of view is not only centered in bicycles but motos as well. I'm not talking about moto-lovers (my brother is the most passionated person I know about motos and for 24 years I've been living with him and I never felt inspired by it and in 6 months, me, myself, want to have one (!!!) - ok, it helps to see beautiful women riding Vespas in high-heels!), but talking about the role of motos in a urban context.

Of course, in both cases, we have to consider there must not have constraints. In a pratical point of view: no problem for the weather, no problem for high-heels, no problem for men in suits, ... And this is the kind of mental changing I was talking about above, just to name a few. Needless to refer health & environmental aspects. But the changing minds paradigm has to deal also and very important with respect with each type of city user.
Photo: Viviana Volpicella by Garance Doré
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