Walking this city in August means that by the time you arrive at your destination your skin is burned and your mouth is parched. If you have a four-year-old, you have also been wasting precious energy telling her to keep walking and then eventually carrying her the last few blocks.
On a bicycle, that same twenty-five-minute walk from La Saidia to El Mercado Central means 10 minutes of wind in your hair, a basket for your backpack, and a seat for your kiddo. This city has been a joy to ride. It is flat as a pancake, it has a network of protected bicycle paths, and it has the Jardín del Turia, a former river converted into over five miles of parkland that stretches through the city.
Keep in mind I’m coming from a city in Texas, where we are lucky to have a sporadically connected, incoherent system of bicycle lanes. One minute you are riding in a two-way protected bike lane, and the next minute it ends, so you’re forced to cross the street in order to keep riding with traffic. I have never spent any time in Holland, where I knew many cities are so well set up for cycling that bicycles take the place of the family car. So Valencia is the best I’ve had, and this Texan is impressed.
Here there is consistency in the style of bicycle lanes as well as the signage. The lanes are always two-way, and are found on just one side of the street. They are most often nestled between the sidewalk and parked cars lining the road, which gives you a barrier between pedestrians and moving traffic. If there are no parked cars, there are segmented curbs in place as a barrier between cyclists and vehicles. While bike lanes wind around blocks, sometimes climbing up onto the sidewalk in a way that might not be the most direct path, it is the safest path, and is the best for traffic flow as a whole. Here, crosswalk signs have separate symbols for bicycles and pedestrians making both feel they have the right to be there, and reminding them where to stand to keep everything flowing.
And let’s talk about scooters for a second (but only for a second because I know how touchy a subject this can be). People use them a ton here. But, unlike in Austin, the people who use them are commuters, not late-night club-goers or tourists (trying to get to Austin City Limits). This means that the people who use them own them, know how to ride them, and carry their helmets with them. And thanks to the bike lanes, they are never sharing sidewalks with pedestrians or streets with cars.
Back to bikes. I will miss the feeling of freedom and access our bicycles have given us. We were here long enough that it made sense to just buy them instead of renting, and today we are selling them back to the same guy that we bought them from. I will miss the way Bilingual Baby insisted on buckling her own seat straps and helmet straps. I will miss the assumption that when we go out we are taking bikes (car isn’t an option because we don’t have one). I will miss feeling safe riding around, and the way cars yield to bikes like they yield to pedestrians.
Sometimes while riding around with Bilingual Baby I like to just imagine being her—-not sure where we’re going, not really caring, just talking to herself, pointing things out that she sees, and watching Valencia pass by. I, on the other hand, must read street signs and guess which way is North, always with my fingers near the brakes and my thumb hovering over the bell in case a clueless tourist stepped into my bicycle lane. “Ring! Ring! Coming through!”