27 March 2012

Spanish Police Harass Father on Bicycle

Oliver Green and his daughters. Photo: Courtesy of Oliver Green.
Here's the latest update from Oliver:

Last update before heading out for the Easter break.
I finally received a call from the town hall - the Councilor for Safety from the ruling People's Party wants to meet with me together with the Head of the Municipal Police to discuss my complaint. They're gonna have to wait till after the holiday though as we're heading out later today.
I had a productive meeting with David Cierco councilor and spokesperson for the local Socialist Party group in Pozuelo. Like the UPyD they too have cycling and bike lanes high on their agenda (http://www.gmspozuelo.org/pozuelo-dinamico/) but is is very hard to get through in this town as the PP has had an absolute majority for the last 30 years... What I really found quite surprising was their claim that the PP in Spain is anti-bike because they see the car as progress and as central to their model of urban development while the bike is for poor people… Maybe I shouldn't be surprised but surely in CPH and Amsterdam whether you ride a bike is not about your political belief and if it is this needs addressing - surely driving a car or taking a walk doesn't depend on your political persuasion! IMHO, to be successful the bike as urban transport must cut through political ideology, class, colour and creed just as the car has done.

Here's the latest update from Oliver. Be sure to read the comments. Lots of encouragement and good ideas there. Add your own!
Wanted to give you a quick update on the latest events and coverage:

Pablo published this piece in his blog today - very good because he was able to clearly explain that my bike is legal and why the Spanish law needs updating to remove the ambiguity. See here, in Spanish: http://blogs.elpais.com/love-bicis/2012/03/irresponsable.html

Basically there is a traffic law saying that a bike made for one can only carry one minor under 7 in a certified seat behind the rider. The loophole is that it doesn't talk about a bike like mine, built specifically for more than 3 nor tandems, trikes etc. However under this current regulation a child seat behind the handlebars is illegal which is crazy. I've done another extensive interview and photo shoot with another journalist from El País this afternoon. Will let you know when it's published.

I've have a meeting set up with the socialist opposition leader on Monday - he got in touch with me proactively and they are taking up my case as well as the other opposition party.

I was interviewed live on a national TV magazine type program this morning - haven't been able to find the clip for that on Internet yet. Will forward if I do find it - was positive overall.

Tomorrow I'm being interviewed on a local volunteer station (Radiociclista) in Albacete - smallish town near Alicante.

ConBici - the national association that represents 54 regional groups in Spain has nominate me for the "Cyclist of the Year" award :-)

Well that's about it - still got to see whether the town hall will back down - they still say they're gonna fine me and are also calling me a liar and a radical so it might end up in court yet… we'll see

Email from Oliver:
OK, so we made the national news today and a major national radio station - however they are spinning that my bike is not legal in Spain due to some crazy ass regulation - The regulation states that a bike made for one can carry only one child in a certified child seat. However, as the local councilors I met pointed out, my bike is not made for one but three.


Meanwhile, the town hall are not backing down - they say they're going to fine me for riding an illegal bike, putting my children at risk etc….they don't care that it is perfectly ok and normal in other countries - bit of a shitstorm really. Oh well, will keep fighting this, I have the support of the community and common sense.

Can anyone help out with regulations in Spain or EU about bicycles? Any information?!

Oliver emailed me last night:
Wow, what a day… the comments still keep pouring in, it's all over the place, twitter, Facebook, meneame - http://www.meneame.net/ (a Spanish site like Digg with over 2000 "meneos" and 206 comments - the top one today in fact), tomorrow two national TV channels are coming to interview me and record our trip to school , a local councilor from one of the opposition parities wants to take it up in the town hall and El Pais want an interview. I can hardly keep up with it :-) Now I need to make sure to get maximum impact - not for my case but for the case of all citizen cyclists (and potential citizen cyclists) - here in Spain!

Good luck, Oliver!

It is this kind of story that can really irritate me. My friend Oliver lives in Spain, outside of Madrid. He's English, but very much repatriated. He has been riding bicycles for years and now he rides his two daughters to school and back again each day.

Something that people do in many places in the world. Apparently the police in his city are very much like the police in many places in the world, too. They obviously have too much time on their hands.

Last week, Oliver dropped off his girls - aged 2 and 5 - and, when he came out of the school, two plainclothes policemen were waiting for him in an unmarked police car. Seriously. Waiting for him. They were in an aggressive mood and stated that his bicycle was not certified to carry two children.

He started a blog to write about it - Pozuelo con Pedales - Pedaling Pozuelo, referring to the town that Oliver lives in - Pozuelo de Alarcón.

The police demanded to see his "ficha tecnica" or vehicle registration, which is of course ridiculous - it's a BICYCLE.

Oliver was furious and when he started complaining about the treatment, they police started harrassing him about riding a section of the route to school on the sidewalk - about 200 m in total. It is technically illegal to do so, but Oliver had decided that committing a minor traffic offence was better than taking chances on a stretch with inadequate infrastructure for cyclists and lack of police enforcement of the 40 km/h speed limit, as well as enforcing the 1.5 m law in Spain.

In fact, the police had previously told him to take the sidewalk one day after picking up the girls from school. So this wasn't the first run-in with the local police. They have been keeping an eye on him and photographing his movements. How bizarre is that?

The story ends - well not really ends - with the police taking his personal data and telling him that they would prepare a report for the City Council and another for Social Services - claiming him to be an irresponsible father.

This is shocking. It's something you expect in Australia, the UK or North America, but in Spain?! Talk about Ignoring the Bull.

Oliver has been riding a bicycle for transportation every day for years and has been taking his kids to school and kindergarten by bicycle since they could sit upright.

Oliver writes on his blog that: "I'm shocked; shocked at having to endure this nonsense and more so while cars get away with all sorts of traffic violations, by the lack of respect for cyclists, the serious lack of adequate infrastructure for cyclists, the waste of tax-payers money and police resources etc, etc... This is in contrast with other Spanish cities such as Vitoria, Barcelona, ​​Seville, Valencia or Majadahonda who are actively promoting the use of the bike. A shame."

So. What can we do about this? First of all, click right here. It's the website for the City of Pozuelo de Alarcón. Let them know we're here with a click. If you can manage the Spanish, here's a form for contacting the Mayor's office.

Now we need to figure out how to get some action, bring these policemen into the spotlight and get the city to take some action. Instead of persecuting a citizen who chooses to ride a bicycle.


peterhunor said...

Using Google Translate, I managed to actually file a complaint at the City Council.

Jesús Martínez said...

I've sent them the link to this post.

I think they deserve to know that they are famous abroad.

I am sure the mayor is thinking how to downsize the police. Perhaps it's a good idea if they don't have anything else to do.

johnrawlins said...

It looks like he bumped into two especially neanderthalic policeman. I live in Spain and in my dealing with the Spanish police as a cyclist I have always found them to be extremely helpful and friendly to cyclists.

Eneko Astigarraga said...

This case is unfortunately quite common here in Spain.

As I told a couple of months ago, this is a country that is still underdeveloped in terms of bicycle culture, specially on this topics related to travel with kids.

As an example, this post in which I told how an odd journalist here called those who carry their children on their bikes: the Apocalypse Riders.


As sad as real.

Greeting from the South of It.

AndrewRH said...

Also used google translate to fill in form that sends email to mayor, and referenced this article. Mayor's form is HERE.

Julian Ferguson said...

We've covered the Story on our website, http://www.ecf.com/news/spanish-police-harass-father-on-bicycle-ecf-newswatch/

Very saddening to see authorities to take such an approach when so many are striving for a bicycle friendly image. Let's hope some change will come about.

shuichi said...

The coolest!

Michael S said...

This seems especially ridiculous, since the bike looks like a Yuba-type extra long bike with appropriate seating for the kids.

DrBacteria said...

Esta historia es perfectamente real en España.. un pais peculiar para un monton de cosas. Lamento que no se proteja a los ciclistas.

Olly Green said...

Thanks for publishing this and thanks for all the kind words of support and comments that have been pouring in all afternoon! Tomorrow I'll feel like I'm surrounded by a bunch of fellow citizen cyclists as if I were on a cycle path in Copenhagen!

Anonymous said...

What you would really do, Oliver, is to escape from this stupid country called Spainistan.

Lars Barfred said...

Stupidity knows no borders, Love the bike though, it really seems terrific for the kids ...and the lunch box ;-)

Keep up the spirits Oily!

Anonymous said...

A few days ago two policemen offduty hit-and-run a cyclist in Mallorca killing her. You know: Spain is different!


Mariano Reaño, Conbici's board, Spain. said...

Copenhagenize friends, probably you cannot imagine how helpful can be for us that you spread among your affiliates informations like this. Spain authorities must realize now that cycling is a major subject across Europe. Thank you very much.

Will said...

Just as I finished this article I came across one from a local newspaper where I live.

A mother was convicted of drunkenly driving to pick up her kids from school. She received 10 days in prison and some probation and fines as a sentence.

It does say towards the end that the woman "may not have contact with the victims, including her son, unless she has permission from the Oregon Department of Human Services."

I'm not clear on if that means the child was taken away or if she is now "parenting" him again with the State's permission.

Either way, the contrast to the story above is interesting.

Roberto said...

Pozuelo is a dreadful town: I've worked next to the El Corte Inglés area for 3 years and you can safely call that "the jungle". As an example, some day I was crossing the 3 lanes on Camino Cerro de los Gamos to get to the train station. Still on the zebra cross over the 2nd lane a SUV came at high speed (there's a limit of 50km/h but who cares!), didn't stop and passed almost touching me keeping no more than 20cm. I jumped backwards and hit one of their windows and they stopped and two thugs came after me threatening to beat me. So you didn't kill me in the first attempt and now want to finish the job?

You must be aware that Spain has always been and still is a fascist country where laws are used as toilet paper by authorities (no exception here). Unfortunately, most citizens are quite keen on that attitude since they keep voting the same guys election after election; there won't be any change for good.

It still amazes me when people gives me strange looks when I cruise in my folding bike which abides 100% by the law (I have a bell, lights and panniers).

Andrew said...

Does not surprise me, so many people are brainwashed pro car they cannot even think of a bike as anything but a toy or exercise equipment .

Anonymous said...

Those cops should lose their police car driving privileges for a year.

This will lead to large savings in fuel and maintenance for the city. Lower health care costs too. Community win!

The police will be fitter, having to do their jobs on foot or on bike. Police officers win!

They'll take time out of their day to learn - really learn - laws applicable to motorist/pedestrian/cyclist interactions. Their empathy for drivers will wane as their empathy for pedestrians and cyclists grows. Cyclists and pedestrians win!

Everybody wins!

diego said...

Thanks Copenagenize.

next step to me in this case is me helping to see Madrid Critical Mass supporting this guy's case any given month. I'd love to see this on the news too.

Anonymous said...

Well, if the polices and the streets in Spain aren't favorable (civilized) for bicycles, this Father would choose to conduct his beautiful daughters by car, or maybe on a tricycle with rear seat...

Seth said...

I will be happy to help translate to spanish anything people want to send. My email es seth@mexicoenbici.com

Please do take me up on this offer.


Vocus Dwabe said...

Not very surprising really: Spain has one of the lowest percentages of daily journeys by bicycle in the whole of Europe. All cyclists are probably regarded by the authorities as mildly deviant - and those who carry their children on bicycles extremely so.

Little-known fact: Spain is one of the three countries in the world with a compulsory cycle-helmet law: always a good indicator for lack of a bicycle culture. It's very ambiguously worded though, with several let-out clauses, and I gather that the police don't bother enforcing it unless they wish to book you for something else.

Anyway Oliver, good luck. At least the publicity you're getting is raising cycling's profile in your adopted country.

To cheer you up, I attach a link for the English version of Offenbach's "Les Beaux Gendarmes", detailing the way in which the police are apt to pursue minor infringers of the law in order to avoid going after real, dangerous criminals.


Herbert Tiemens said...

The Police in Pozuelo is really working in the wrong direction. I found the official policy of the city of Pozuelo de Alarcón towards walking and cycling The city underscribes the European White Paper to encourage people to walk and cycle more.
http://www.pozuelodealarcon.org/index.asp?MP=3&MS=273&MN=3 and use GoogleTranslate.

Nate said...

@Vocus Dwabe "Little-known fact: Spain is one of the three countries in the world with a compulsory cycle-helmet law:"

I lived and cycle in Spain for about 2.5 years, always wearing a helmet, and I made sure to inform myself on the cycling laws in Madrid. It is NOT obligatory to wear a helmet within the city limits, so I don't know where you get this "Spain has a law" idea, when it's clearly left up to cities and Autonomous Communities. Other than that, you're right in that Spain has a horrible cycling culture--at both societal and political levels.

You can consult enbicipormadrid.es about helmet laws, as well.

Erik Griswold said...

Has anyone contacted the manufacturer of the bicycle to see if they can assist?

Kemper Fahrradtechnik

Rheinweg 70

41812 Erkelenz-Grambusch

Telefon +49 2431. 770 17

Telefax +49 2431. 98 06 72

E-mail: info@kemper-velo.de

If their product cannot be sold through-out the EU, then perhaps either Spain needs to be kicked out or Germany needs to withdraw?

snibgo said...

My sympathies to Oliver.

In the UK, this wouldn't be an offence. The Road Traffic Act 1988 s24: "Not more than one person may be carried on a road on a bicycle not propelled by mechanical power unless it is constructed or adapted for the carriage of more than one person."

I suggest he looks at the exact wording of the Spanish legislation.

Vocus Dwabe said...


Surely, the 2004 law applies nationwide, doesn't it? I've looked this up because I might soon be going to live in France, quite near the border with Catalonia, and I don't want any problems with the police if I cycle across onto Spanish territory.

I gather that as you say, it doesn't apply within urban areas, or on roads which aren't classed as national routes - from which I assume that cycling helmetless on country roads is OK. Likewise there are exemptions for "hot weather" (undefined), cycling uphill and persons with "medical conditions" (again undefined). But the word on the blogs is that the police don't enforce it anyway.

Sorry to have gone off-topic, but your advice here would be greatly appreciated. I'm afraid that my reading knowledge of Spanish is rather limited.

Olly Green said...

This is the link to the technical specification for the bike (In German) - I have a copy of an English version which Michael Kemper kindly sent me when I purchased the bike.


It states that the bike frame can take a 250kg load, the back rack 75kg and the front rack 30kg. I now carry a copy of this with me ready for my next run in with the law.

It gets worse, on the news yesterday they claimed that a Bullit is OK in Spain, but not my bike... I test rode a Bullit in Madrid and found it less stable for the conditions here (it's quite hilly).

The the regulation (in Spanish) is on the updated post on my blog (for those who can read Spanish see below). It is wide open - like the helmet law, and I've been told that each town hall can interpret it how they want (there are around 8,000 town halls in Spain!) so imagine the nightmare.

ceeceedee said...

I too resorted to Google Translate to send a letter to the local council. Good luck Oliver!

Anonymous said...

Hi! My all support and symphaties goes to Olly. I hope this case will have happy ending.

By the way how is the law in the other countries? I think that Finnish law says that you can carry two childs on a bike. However, I think that more will be fine if a bike and driver is capable of carrying more. We have mostly good cops, who can be seen cycling or horseback riding during summertime. :)

Joshua juegos de vestir said...

Is a nice pic i wanna make a bike like that

Diogo Ricardo Dias said...

I just send an email for de mayor. It´s my contribute. shame on you spain.
Diogo Dias, from Portugal

playmobil train said...

On a conventional tandem both cyclists have to pedal together, so when the adult pedals the child will have to pedal, unless they take their feet off the pedals.

Anonymous said...

Quoted :Anonymous said...

"What you would really do, Oliver, is to escape from this stupid country called Spainistan."

Dear Anonymous, please have some respect to the country, there are many people here trying to make it better. I am sure, we will manage to have a beter cycling culture.

Erik Griswold said...

Pikers! You've got a long distance to go before you can reach the elite status that the Americans have:


"The single mother from Marietta, Ga., who potentially faced more prison time for jaywalking than the man convicted for the hit-and-run accident that killed her 4-year-old son, was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 12 months probation in Cobb County State Court, but then also given the option of a new trial in an unusual decision."


Mat said...

I've also used google translate to send a message to your mayor. Keep up the good work!

Olly Green said...

Thanks Mat, and thanks to all those who're supporting me with this case. Each individual action counts like a turn of the cranks to move us forward. I owe quite a few people a beer it would seem, so if any of you are ever in Madrid make sure to get in touch. As you have seen the cycling facilities are pretty poor but hey we got good weather....guess you can't have it all :-)

Geoff Granfield said...

That was really preposterous. Have you gone to a personal injury attorney to report this?