martes, 14 de noviembre de 2017

What are the Bicycle Cops Good For?

Bogotá's bicycle cops are back, after several years' absence. But one has to wonder why.

Bike cops frisking someone near Independence Park.
Bike cops have lots of advantage: they can move fast, to chase down bad guys, range over wide parts of the city, and quickly reach places like alleys and narrow streets where, driving or on foot, they might not be able to get to at all.

But Bogotá's bike cops don't actually seem to exploit these advantages. I see them roaming just a few central Bogotá streets, usually eating, chatting amongst themselves, or tirelessly pursuing bad guys in their smartphones. About the only arguably useful law enforcement I've seen them do is clearing poor street vendors off of the sidewalks - a task done equally well on foot.

But why pick on the cycling cops? Whether on foot, in cars or in helicopters, they don't seem motivated to do much except search young people for drugs, in the hopes of squeezing out a bribe.

Bike cops pedaling down
Ave. Septima.
I wish I weren't so cynical. But a few months ago, foreigner who lives here and has a nearby business was walking along in the evening when a drunk kid stabbed him several times in the back. He almost dies from the blood loss, spent mmore than a month in the hospital, lost a part of a kidney and is still slowly recovering. Do you think the police care? More than two months later, they still haven't interviewed the witness and told the victim's son to track down the relevant videos.

A few weeks before that attack, a Colombian acquaintance got stabbed in the hand during a mugging attempt. Since he filed the initial report, the police have done no follow-up to try to, say, identify the assailant.

How many more people have these guys since stabbed and robbed, because the cops just don't care?

This afternoon, with this on my mind, I passed a group of a half-dozen bike cops doing their usual thing, enjoying coffee on a side street. When I stopped to take photos, they detained and frisked me and made me erase the pictures 'because they were a security threat.' Or, perhaps they were embarrased?

'Move on', 'move on.' Bike cops clearing out street vendors.
In front of the San Francisco Church, in La Candelaria.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

The Bike Messenger Boom

Rappi bike messengers in a bike lane near the Zona Rosa in north Bogotá.
Years ago, back in Seattle, Washington, I worked as a bicycle messenger. It was one of the best and most memorable jobs I ever held: pumping up those hills, skidding around curvers, zipping down hills, slipping between trucks and buses with only inches to spare: We competed to see who could make the most deliveries in a day, and it was the closest I'll ever come to being a professional athlete.

Rappi messengers waiting for a job outside a
north Bogotá supermarket.
Not the least pleasure I got from it was marching, sweaty and mud-splattered, into the offices of the most high-powered and uptight executive offices in town.

Not long after my time there, bike messenger started dying, the victim of faxes, and then e-mail. Today, I suspect, the only things still messengered are food, medical supplies and, maybe, art pieces.

My old company, Elliot Bay Messengers, is gone now.

But Bogotá, it seems, is still behind the curve in information technology, and bike messengering is booming. A number of small companies pioneered the industry, but it took the smartphone boom and deep pockets such as Rappy and Uber Eats to make it the ubiquitous industry it is today.

Don't drop those bags! Dangling lunches off of handlebars.
Unfortunately, the big boys, like Rappi and Uber Eats, employ bicycles out of economics and speed, not any principles of sustainable transport. They also have motorcyclists and, undoubtedly, cars. But bicycles are cheap and slip past traffic jams, particularly thanks to Bogotá's expanding bike lane network. 

Other companies, such as CONTRARRELOJ and A Pedal appear to use exclusively bicycles.

Winding thru traffic.
A local food delivery guy on the pedal.

Frutapp waiting to go.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

sábado, 4 de noviembre de 2017

Edwin's Ingenious Cargo Trailers

Edwin and Alejandro making a final adjustment to a cargo trailer.
Edwin pedaling a bike with
cargo trailer.
For seven years, Edwin Vasquez has made industrial equipment in his shop in Bogotá's gritty, blue collar Samper Mendoza neighborhood, a half block off of Calle 26. Then, two years ago, he made the acquaintance of Edwin, an inveterate bicycle tourist, who once rode to the southern tip of Argentina to campaign for peace in Colombia.

Edwin makes a
final adjustment.
Since then, Edwin has created a series of practical, innovative and functional bicycle cargo trailers, which they were test riding the other day in front of his shop. The one I tried out was a bit top-heavy and swayed from side to side, but otherwise functioned well. Another, with a low platform, would likely provide a more stable ride.

Edwin Vasquez Santos: Kontrol
Tel: 269-5903 Cel: 320-866-3603
Carrera 25 No. 24B-45 
e-mails: kontrol.infoindustrial   or   edwinvasquez.kontrol  , both at gmail.

Edwin's workshop: Kontrol industrial equipment.

Alejandro and Edwin in Kontrol.
Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

miércoles, 25 de octubre de 2017

To School By Bike

A student in a city-sponsored bike-to-school program.
Thousands of kids are cycling to school these days thanks to a city-sponsored program which provides bikes and guides to get kids used to pedaling.

Bicycling down a cycle path in the Santa Fe neighborhood.
'Al Colegio en Bici' (To School by Bike) lends bikes to students, which they are expected to use daily and take home at night. A guide rides a circuit before school, picking up children at their homes or pre-arranged pick-up spots. They form a caravan on their way to campus. After school, the process happens in reverse.

Children also learn basic mechanics and receive helmets and other things as prizes. In addition to commuting to school, the program also organizes cycling outings to parks, museums, historical sites and other destinations. Some 6,000 students participate, according to El Tiempo, under the watchful eyes of more than two hundred guides, primarily in middle- and lower-income neighborhoods. The idea is to set mobility and physical activity patterns the children will follow through the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, only a small proportion of students can participate - perhaps 20 or 30 in a whole
A well-worn 'Al Colegio en Bici'
bike sign.
school.  'It always fills up,' says a friend who works with the program.

Of course, many other children ride to school on their own bikes. 'The school bike parking lots are always full,' says the friend.

The program has been marred by tragedies. Recently, a guide was hit and killed by a bus, and a child whose parent didn't meet him at an after-school pick-up spot was fatally struck by a car as he tried to make his way home.

Both tragedies may say more about the habits of Bogotá drivers and the unruliness of the roads here, than the Al Colegio en Bici program.

With luck, the program will have a multiplier effect, by making the cyclists the envy of their classmates, and motivating others to buy bicycles or take that old bike out of storage.

'To the museum by bike.' Bikes wait outside for students visiting the National Museum.

Hand me that helmet!

Waiting to ride home.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

martes, 24 de octubre de 2017

A Full Service Shop - Where It's Needed

In back, working on a bike. 
The National University, known affectionately as La Nacho, is Colombia's largest university and a Mecca for cyclists. But for many years, there were no bike services nearby - either on or off of campus.

That's changed now with some informal repair stands by the main entrances, but mostly by Bicita, a small and efficient place near the university's Teusaquillo entrance.

I visited Bicita years ago, when it was very rudimentary. The other day, they had a dozen that had been repaired or were awaiting repair parked outside. Inside, they sell drinks and pastries and a nice selection of cycling clothing and gear. The small repair shop is in back.

For a people with such entrepeneurial spirit, it's strange that it's taken so long for cycling services to appear here.

Bike jerseys.
Lots of bike gear for sale.
Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

martes, 26 de septiembre de 2017

Making Cycling Safer: It isn't Easy

'Not One More Death!' Cyclists protest
the recent death of a Bogotá bicyclist.
Understandably, this year's Bogotá Bike Week is paying lots of attention to the problem of cyclist fatalities. After all, just recently two Bogotá bicyclists were killed by accidents on two consecutive days. And so far in 2017, some 45 cyclists have died on Bogotá streets. In contrast, in New York, which has about the same population and also a public bicycles program, about 15 cyclists die each year.

I'm writing this from northern California, where I'm visiting my
A video by the El Espectador newspaper
chronicles the number of Bogot'a cyclists
killed annualy, generally more than 50.
parents in a suburb east of San Francisco. Bicycling around here makes starkly clear how Bogotá falls short of being a cyclist-friendly city. Unfortunately, the improvements it needs aren't easy.

The 'Cicloruta' on Calle 13, in Bogotá.
Can you see it amidst all those pedestrians?
Safe, pleasant, useable bike lanes: Bogotá has some of these, and the city is improving. But many Bogotá bike lanes are merely lines painted on sidewalks, where cyclists must dodge around pedestrians, delivery drivers and cars. Other bike lanes have potholes or are blocked by signposts.

In contrast, in northern California, most bike lanes are wide, well-maintained and on streets, where
A California bike lane. Nice -
but where are the cyclists?
they actually take space away from cars.

A bicyclist (behind taxi/red arrow) tries to cross a
Bogotá intersection blocked by cars which ran the red light.
Cautious, courteous drivers: Unfortunately, many Bogotá motorists behave as tho they are the only ones with any rights. That's why you see pedestrians waiting interminably at crosswalks.

(When I block the cars to give an old lady a chance to cross, motorists insult me for it.)

Cycling across an intersection often becomes a game of chicken with drivers who run red lights or
Seldom seen in Bogotá: California cars
stop and wait to let a pedestrian
cross a street.
ignore stop signs and believe that neither laws nor common decency apply to them.

In contrast, here in the Bay Area when I even APPROACH an intersection drivers stop. Is something wrong? I wonder. No, they're waiting for me to cross. Is this out of courtesy, or because they're terrified of getting sued? Does it matter?

Of course, cyclists violate lots of traffic rules. But the general atmosphere of chaos and lack of civility on Bogotá streets makes a cyclist shake his shoulders and ask 'Why obey rules, if nobody else does?'

A Bogotá bus appears to aim its smokey
exhaust at a pedestrian.
Breathable air: In Bogotá, every time a bus, van or truck passes me, I hold my breath, half expecting to be blasted with diesel smoke. In Bogotá, even many cars belch fumes because they lack a catalytic converter or filters. As any Bogotano knows, in a congested spot, you can literally TASTE the air pollution.

Besides the obvious health impacts, this just makes bicycling unpleasant. In California, which has some of the world's strictest emissions laws, even in congested areas I barely sense fumes at all.

The first of these problems requires an engineering fix, and city planners appear to be improving: All the new bike lanes I've seen are on streets.

But the other two issues involve culture, which is tougher to change. Perhaps less apathetic (and less
New York City bicycling accident
rates have fallen steeply.
(Graph: N.Y. D.O.T.)
corrupt) transit police could help, as might public relations campaigns. But as long as the every-man-for-himmself credo rules, cycling, driving and walking Bogotá's streets will be dangerous and frustrating.

Yet, for all that, Bogotá has many more cycle commuters than do northern California's suburbs - and perhaps even more than does bike-friendly San Francisco.

That's why I'm becoming convinced that making cycling pleasant and making it popular are two very different - but related - issues. Fixing these troubles will lure onto two wheels only those people who already would like to bicycle, but are afraid to. To get more people to WANT to cycle will require  more fundamental social changes.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

jueves, 14 de septiembre de 2017

Subsidize the Bicycles!

Would a public bikes program get pedestrians like these on Carrera 7 pedaling?
For the hundredth time, Bogotá is planning a public bicycle system.

In Lyon, France, public bikes wait for riders.
The last one, bidded out by Mayor Petro to a consortium consisting of a Colombian man with a history of corruption problems, and a Chinese company - neither of which had experience with bicycles - died a quiet and deserved death.

That plan also absurdly required the bicycle scheme to pay profits to the city. Around the world, even in cities much wealthier and with much more tourism than Bogotá, such bicycle systems either receive public subsidies or have deep-pocketed corporate sponsors.

Paris, France, public bicycles.
Now, Bogotá Mayor Peñalosa plans to try again. And this time the bikes will not be required to pay the city - but neither are they to receive public monies.

Motor vehicles burn subsidized fuel and often get free parking - which all of us pay for. And all of us pay the costs' of vehicle pollution's health and environmental impacts.

Bicyclists, on the other hand, don't pollute, occupy little space and benefit people's health. But in Bogotá, bicycles don't receive those subsidies.

Lodz, Poland's public bicycles.
Around the world, public bikes are seen as a benefit because they reduce pollution and traffic congestion and improve citizens' health. So, why does Bogotá see bikes as a business and expect them to pay for themselves?

Unfortunately, in a city like Bogotá with lots of poverty and relatively few tourists and deep-pocketed tourists, a public bicycle system is unlikely to survive on its own economics.

When will Bogotá, with its ambitions of being a cycling mecca, put its money where its mouth is?

Public bicycles in Zongshan, China.
by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours