07 August 2009

World's Longest Bicycle Commuter Tunnel Opens

Bicycle Tunnel in San Sebastian
San Sebastian Bicycle Tunnel - Photo: Michelena at Diario Vasco

The Basque city of San Sebastian inaugurated the world's longest bicycle commuter tunnel yesterday [07 August 2009] in a former railway tunnel on the Bilbao-San Sebastian route.

The Mayor of San Sebastian, Odon Elorza, and the Deputy Minister of Transport of the Basque Government, Ernesto Gasco opened the tunnel to the delight of the many cyclists in the city. The tunnel is aimed primarily at bicycle commuters but recreational cyclists are expected to use it on the weekends as well.

Elorza expressed satisfaction at the launching of this new infrastructure that improves the network of bicycle lanes in San Sebastian and is "a symbol of progress, sustainability and personal health".

San Sebastian Bicycle Tunnel - Photo: Michelena at Diario Vasco

The bicycle tunnel itself is 850 metres long and a part of a 2 kilometre section of former railway that connects two neighbourhoods in the city and is part of the ongoing commitment of the city to encourage people to choose the bicycle as transport. The project cost €2.6 million [$3.7 million] and it is hoped that it will boost the further development of dedicated bicycle infrastructure in the Guipuzcoa Province.

San Sebastian
is the second-largest city in the Basque region with roughly 180,000 people and 405,000 in the metro area.

Amazing that a city of this size is willing to invest in such remarkable bicycle projects when larger cities elsewhere have trouble painting bicycle lanes. Spain has hardly enjoyed status as a bicycle-friendly country in the past. It's a car-centric nation and Spaniards only ride 27 km a year per capita, compared with roughly 1000 km in Denmark and the Netherlands. It looks like things are changing for the better. Here's a list of countries will how many kilometres they ride.

San Sebastian Bicycle Tunnel - Photo: Michelena at Diario Vasco

The tunnel features 29 security cameras, a public adress system and closed circuit camera link for the Municipal Guard. It will be closed at night between 23:00 and 07:00.

San Sebastian Bicycle Tunnel - Photo: Michelena at Diario Vasco

You can see a TV reportage about the new tunnel over at Diario Vasco. It's in Spanish but there is some great footage of the tunnel as well as the many cyclists in San Sebastian.

San Sebastian is just one of scores of cities in Europe who are working hard to improve the conditions for their cycling citizens but one that is often overlooked in a global perspective, much like cities like Toulouse.

The city is no stranger to Cycle Chic, either:
San Sebastian Cycle Chic

Thanks to Gorka for the heads up! He writes:
I wanted to share with you the news of the inauguration of this tunnel in San Sebastian, Basque country. It is 2 km long and it connects two neighborhoods of the city. Here in the Basque country, we are trying to be the Copenhagen of the Iberian Peninsula!!

You're well on your way, Gorka. Nice one.

This isn't the first time we've posted about bicycle tunnels. There are various tunnels on the drawing board around the world. This is, however, the first large one that is completed.

Here's a post about tunnel proposals in Copenhagen and Qatar.
Here's one about a tunnel in Norway.
Addendum: Paddy just told us about plans for a 1700 metre long tunnel in Bath, UK.


Frits said...

Basque cyclists are obviously like any other cyclists in the world: traffic signs? Not for me. The photo shows two lanes in the tunnel, one up one down, with arrows. But as long as there are no head-on collisons all will be well.
I remember from long ago the cycle tunnel under the river Maas in Rotterdam, built in 1937, opened in 1942. Even then, it was wider than the tunnel shown here, but half as long (1 km was enough to span the Maas). Two separate tubes, one for each direction.

administrador said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
administrador said...

Well done, Spain is heading in the right direction(although slowly)

Mikael said...

indeed, the Maas tunnel is legendary.

the difference is that it was built to accomodate the existing masses of cyclists in Rotterdam in the pre-war years.

The tunnel in San Sebastian tunnel was built to encourage people to ride in the hopes of masses of citizens on bikes.

Necessary investment and hopeful investment.

txell said...

i think that is a great infrastructure. last month i had a meeting in san sebastian with the mayor of the city and he was SO enthusiastic about the tunnels. he's doing a good work related with the bike culture, not only in the basque country, it's an example for the rest of spain...

Martin said...

San Sebastian, it's like a little paradise. Heaven in miniature. For its size it's got to be the best thing going. Definitely worth a week or two... again...

Anonymous said...

Surely Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque region?

Mikael said...

you're right... i've corrected it. thanks. but don't call me shirley.

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Gorka said...


I'm sorry, after reading more details about the tunnel (haven't been there, yet) I found out that out of the 2 Km that were just opened only 850m qualify as a proper covered tunnel. Diario Vasco still calls it the longest bike tunnel in Europe but I thought I would let you know... It is cool looking nonetheless, isn't it?

Paddy said...

You might want to look at the proposals for the Two Tunnels scheme in Bath, UK. The longer of the two tunnels is 1700m.


Der Geis said...

Here in Pennsylvania, USA, we have a potential competitor. Mid-state, near Breezewood, there is an 11 mile section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike that was abandoned in 1968, only 28 years after it had been built. This section of 4-lane toll highway was sold to the Southern Allegheny Conservancy for $1, ultimately to be converted into a recreational trail.

It includes the Ray's Hill Tunnel (3,532 ft) and the Sideling Hill Tunnel (6,782 ft). For the civilized world that has made the conversion to metric, that's 2.06 km.

LocalHikes.com review
Pike to Bike.cog

Dave said...

The route of the Hiawatha rail trail in North Idaho, USA has a tunnel of 2700 meters length. The old railroad between Idaho and Montana has been converted to a mountain bike trail.

Tartalo said...

I am seeing with envy ( healthy envy, of course ) how much effort is putting Donostia-San Sebastian developing cycling infrastructures and nurtuting a cycling culture. A beautiful town by the sea that will certainly improve with the cycling .I am from Bilbao ( the next door town) and I hope we react , catch up and surpass Donostia-san Sebastian ;oP .

Jan said...

There is apparently also a bike tunnel near Newcastle. Talking Head David Byrne has a picture of it on his blog

bikerider said...

I wonder how this project compares to USA Rails-To-Trails projects?

Many of these Rails-To-Trails type projects in the USA tend to be very counterproductive because they convert a perfectly good railroad ROW into not so good bike trail. The bike trails are not so good because they have unprotected streets crossings, and do not serve utility cyclists. They are just for the occasional, recreational riders.

The reason this is happening in the USA is because: 1. The US provides little funding for public transit; 2. Regulatory agencies have made it prohibitively expensive to build and operate passenger rail in the USA. Thus, it is cheaper to pave over a rail ROW than to refurbish the tracks and run trains, even in very dense urban areas.

Contrast this situation to Germany (and other European countries), where regulations and funding are much more favorable: old freight ROW is being converted all over the place not into bike trails but modern DMU passenger rail lines. In many cases, these rail lines also have a bike path running alongside.

Mikael said...

one of the differences is that this tunnel is for people who wish to commute, using the bicycle daily for transport.

many rails to trails projects in USA are recreational.

* said...

Donostia is the name of the city!

Gorka said...

Bikerider, the Basque country is developing a high-speed rail network that will reduce travel time between the three main cities to around 30 minutes. It is very controversial as it will have a significant impact on the landscape. Here's the link of the Basque Gov't website explaining this network:


bikerider said...

@Mikael: You indicate that the tunnel will be closed at night between 23:00 and 07:00.

I don't know the habits of this particular town, but in every other city I have seen in Spain, locals don't even go out for dinner until after 10pm, and the clubs open well after midnight. The fact that this facility is closed at those times suggests it is not a true utility cycling facility. This "closed after sunset" policy is one of the big problems with American style rails-to-trails.

@Gorka: Spain has the most aggressive high-speed rail program in the West. Despite the landscape impacts, we in America are very jealous. Now, if Renfe would just allow bikes on board their trains...

Mikael said...

the tunnel just opened last week. let's let them see how it goes.

the primary objective is commuters going to work. people usually eat dinner at home, like anywhere else.

and if they do go out for dinner, they usually do it locally and not in the next town.

i'm quite the city has calculated all the traffic and the potential and the target groups.

Spadmaniac said...

a great idea !

Anonymous said...

So apparently there is no Basque word for "helmet"?

Mikael said...

helmets are an american phenomenon without any conclusive scientific evidence to back them up. Most European bicycle unions don't promote them and fight legislation tooth and nail.

The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation

Julie said...

We just got back from San Sebastian and it's a fantastically friendly cycling ciy. We had the pleasure of going through this tunnel and were wondering about the investment in it...well done San Sebastian

Richard Tulloch said...

Sydney is not very bike-friendly either, and we're not allowed to ride through our new tunnels.

But it has had a very large bicycle bridge over the harbour since the 1930's.

We're very proud of it, (and it now has dedicated pedestrian, car and train lanes too.) Every visitor to Sydney should try it out!


Peter McAndrew said...

There is a longer cycling tunnel called "Tunnel du bois clair" near Cluny in France. It is 1.6km Long