Bike bus boom: festive protest on the way to school

Lines multiply as movement joins an international action to demand safe routes for kids

4 min
Participants in the premiere of the Ensanche bike bus.

BarcelonaNine children and two teachers. Thus began the first bike bus in Catalonia, in February 2020 in Vic. And since then the practice of cycling together to school in large groups through the middle of the road has been spreading to other towns and cities and is now experiencing a real boom this 2022. Canvis en Cadena, an initiative inspired by that first project in Vic to share information with everyone who wants to promote bike buses, now estimates that there are 17 municipalities and a total of about 700 children (and many accompanying family members) who take part. The lines are multiplying week after week at a rate that means that each new line no longer makes the news.

In Barcelona alone there are nine bike buses in operation, and those who know closely how things are going warn that "there will be more". And they recall the proposal is also a kind of protest: if bike rides of this type are organised it is because the cycling infrastructure for children to reach schools is not safe enough. And, therefore, now all Catalan bike buses are preparing a coordinated action to demand the right of any child to be able to move safely by bicycle. For the past few days there have been calls on social media for a mass protest on May 15, and this Friday they explained they will join the global organisation Kidical Mass, an initiative that was born in 2008 in the United States, and that will bring protest bike buses to cities like Paris, Rome, Vienna, Berlin, or Guayaquil. And now also to Barcelona.

The first transfer

In the Eixample, which is where the line linking the Mercat de Sant Antoni and the old Model prison – which, with peak attendance of around 200 people, is the most numerous – there are already two more in operation: the one that leaves from the Letamendi square also towards the old Model prison and the one that runs along Diagonal from Verdaguer to Les Glòries. And two more are about to be launched: one will bear the name of Sagrada Família, which will depart from Provença-Cartagena and will end at Escola 9 Graons after passing through the Sagrada Familia and Fructuós Gelabert schools, and another will consolidate what were branches of the Sant Antoni line. That is, routes that until now were made along bike lanes to reach schools that are not on Entença street and which were so popular they "have overflowed". Therefore, they will leave bike lanes and take over the road along Consell de Cent.

It will be, in fact, the first possibility of a transfer from one line to another, as if it were a subway or bus line. A child will be able to start the itinerary at Mercat de Sant Antoni and when arriving at Consell de Cent change lines to reach schools such as Diputació or Auró.

First day of bike bus along Barcelona's Diagonal.

A line is also starting to operate in Les Corts, which unlike all other lines will work on Thursdays. There is also one in Ciutat Vella, promoted by the Pere Vila school, which starts in La Rambla, one in Sant Andreu and a recovered line Sarrià, where there was a first attempt last year and a new line has been set up this year that operates in three shifts to serve students who start at 8 am, 8.30 am and 9 am.

"Now there is more and more of us we dare even with take on the Via Augusta", explains Yago Raventós, who is a teacher at Col·legi Reial Monestir de Santa Isabel and brought the bike bus to Barcelona last year and now participates in the joint project by eight schools, in which 90 children and 40 adults take part. This, they say, means fifteen fewer vehicles on the streets between cars and motorcycles. Canvis en Cadena calculates that bike buses that use their app (not all, but including 454 children from ten municipalities) replace 180 cars.

Bike lanes, parking spaces and radars

The first initiative in Sarrià, however, stopped working because of the lack of safe places to park bicycles, a demand cyclists maintain. The organizers of the Eixample bicycle bus lines also have demands, and this week they met with city councillors to inform of two new lines in the pipeline and to ask about the status of their requests. These include making a safe bike lane on Entença street, where there are three primary schools that every Friday join the bike bus; one on Mallorca street; or the installation of anchors to park bicycles next to schools.

District councillor Pau Gonzàlez, who claims he is "delighted that the bicycle bus project is growing because it is children taking back the streets", responded to the requests by assuring that, for the moment, what will be done in Entença is the service lane, which is what was already agreed, but that the commitment is that this work will not prevent, in the future, building a bike lane. He also reported that the district has purchased about 200 anchors for bicycles that will now be distributed with the commitment to meet the needs of the bicycle buses.

But the schools that have joined the bike bus fever have even more requests, such as reducing the number of lanes or, at the very least, more control of the speed limit on the streets that go past schools. This is the case of 9 Graons, in the Eixample, on Roger de Flor street, where data from a pedagogical radar and a sensor installed by families indicates that more than half of drivers break the 30 km/h limit. In fact, 8% drive at more than 70 km/hour. "We need elements that force people to reduce their speed, we don't want any surprises," laments Marc Hurtado, from the school's parent associatoin, who also calls for improvements to the cycle lane network.