lunes, 17 de septiembre de 2018

Riding up El Verjon

Luis Carlos and two guys from Newfoundland on their way up El Verjón.
El Verjón is a popular climb which, after 20 minutes huffing and puffing from the city center, will have you feeling like you've entered a different reality.

A view of Bogotá from above.
On a nice weekend or holiday morning hundreds of cyclists make the climb, many on expensive racing bikes, some shadowed by police escorts.

The road twists and turns through the forest of pines and eucalyptus, offering spectacular views of Bogotá and its surrounding savannah - and a great excuse to stop and catch one's breath in the thin area at 3,000 meters above sea level.

According to the Altimetrias Colombia blog, the full climb is
18.1 kms and climbs 647 meters to an altitude of of 3367 meters above sea level, at an average grade of 4.12% and a maximum of 12%.

At the top, take a break in the little snack shack with a sweet, warm agua panela, Colombian cyclists' official drink.
Luis Carlso and Darren, from the UK, pedaling up El Verjón.

A selfie above Bogotá.
From Altimetrias Colombia.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours, which offers montain bike tours.

domingo, 9 de septiembre de 2018

Rallying Against Cyclist Killings

Diego Garcia, left, calls for an end to murders like the one which cost him his son, who shared his name.
A crowd of protesting cyclists
on Plaza Bolivar.
Last October, Diego Alexander García, 33, was riding his bike home in the early morning in Bosa, when a group of men attacked and robbed him. Garcia resisted and was fatally stabbed in the neck, and two passersby who tried to defend him were stabbed as well.

The thieves escaped with the bicycle and Garcia became one of dozens of Bogotá bicyclists killed each year, either thru accidents or by criminals.

Hundreds of angry cyclists rallied on Plaza Bolivar Sunday morning to draw attention to the deaths and to call for stiffer penalties for theft, since suspects are often released almost immediately, as well as special police units for battling bicycle theft and a national bicycle registry.

'No more robberies.'
Those are good ideas, as a start. However, the registry idea has been tried before, and to be effective requires the participation of a large percentage of owners of high-end bikes, at least, as well as the authorities' taking it seriously. And knowing the corruption and ineffectiveness of Colombian authorities (after our neighbor, a New Zealander, was stabbed almost to death not long ago, the police didn't even bother to interview the crime's witness or review the street's videos) I don't have much faith in law enforcement.
'I join the change.'

More effective might be taking away the incentive to steal bikes by cracking down on the stolen bike market, although this will be difficult to do without complicating the sale of legitimate used bikes. One method would be with sting operations: Have a guy show up at a shady shop offering a used bike lacking proper papers, and maybe with a locked chain wrapped around its seat tube. If the shop buys the bike, they get shut for two weeks, fined and their bicycle inventory gets confisticated. Or, set up a shady bike shop and see who shows up trying to hawk bikes of dubious origin. Yet another method would be to equip nice bikes with GPS tracers, let them get stolen, and then follow them to where the thieves store their merchandise.

A colorful character.
But will Colombian police use innovative methods to protect cyclists, most of whom are low-income people? I'm not holding my breath. At today's demonstration I didn't see a single police representative, except for those standing around with shields to ensure that cyclist protesters didn't storm Congress or the Supreme Court.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

lunes, 20 de agosto de 2018

Drawing Pedicabs Out of Illegality

Bicitaxis await passengers near Los Martires Plaza.
The administration of Mayor Peñalosa is working on a long-needed plan to enable the city's thousands of pedicabs to operate legally.

The pedicabs carry out an important service, carrying commuters short distances from places like
A row of pedicabs in Los Martires.
TransMilenio stations a few blocks or kilometers to their workplaces and then back again. But, until now, they have done so in an unregulated netherworld where they are neither legal nor illegal.

Yes, even outside the law, the cabs represent income for thousands of people and perform a valuable service for commuters.

But the legalization of the pedicabs has long been opposed by the taxi lobby, which considers them competition.

Pedicab drivers complain that police sometimes stop them from working and even confiscate their cabs.

Legalizing the cabs and formalizing their work is a good idea - but should be done gradually and carefully. After all, these people work outside the law for a reason: they don't want to bother with rules and regulations. Also, the bicitaxi drivers are generally poor, unsophisticated men, who won't find it easy conforming to bureaucratic standards, even if they try to. They will need support, and probably subsidies, to conform to the law.

The city wants all pedicabs to follow routes and use designated parking areas; they are also to carry insurance, submit to periodic safety checks, have a driver's license and belong to a pedicab company. In addition, the law prohibits gasoline-powered pedicabs, which have become common in recent years. The vehicles must be either pedal or electric-powered.

Will the great majority of the pedicabers decide that becoming legal is less of a burden than continuing to battle the police? Only time will tell. But if they do not, then the city will find itself back where it started.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

domingo, 19 de agosto de 2018

Bogotá Public Bikes Back in Park

Public bicycles in Santiago, Chile: Not coming to Bogotá anytime soon.
Bogotá's public bikes, promised so many times, are back in park once again.

The administration of Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who is known as a bicycle advocate, looked to be in the process of issuing a contract to the Chilean firm which operates the public bicycle system in Chile's capital - until it wasn't.

Santiago's public bicycle system, Bikesantiago, has reportedly generated many complaints about the service's quality and costs. But complaints are inevitable, and Bikesantiago is in fact expanding quickly, suggesting that something is going right. But Bogotá officials concluded that the company didn't fulfill its minimum requirements for a public bicycles contract and canned the deal. (Nevertheless, Bikesantiago is being purchased by a Brazilian company, which presumably will make an offer to operate a Bogotá public bicycles system.) (A Chinese company, Mobike, has also started a dockless public bicycle system in Santiago.)

There's a fundamental problem is Bogotá's multiple and futile attempts at creating a public bike system: the city's refusal to susbsidize the system.

City Councilwoman Maria Fernanda Rojas, of the Alianza Verde Party, expressed it well: "The city's idea of not injecting public money in this project is an error," she said.

She pointed out that Santiago's system, which did not recieve public money, is troubled, while that of Medellin, Colombia, which does operate on public funds, has succeeded.

In fact, all over the world, public bicycle systems either receive public subsidies or have deep-pocketed private sponsors, often banks. In Bogotá, no such private company has stepped forward.

And Bogotá does subsidize other - and highly polluting - transport modes, including huge subsidies in cheap gasoline and free parking for private cars.

Peñalosa's predecesor, Mayor Gustavo Petro, issued a contract for a public bike system which was economically unrealistic and apparently corrupt. It went nowhere.

Bogotá needs to see public bicycles not as a business, but as a benefit for the city, in cleaner air, less traffic congestion and better transport and health for residents.

Meanwhile, this month Cali, Colombia started a modest system with 100 bicycles for university students to get to the express bus stations. That's not much, but it's more than Bogotá has.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

sábado, 30 de junio de 2018

The Pleasures of Shared Bike Lanes

Should bicyclists on this busy avenue in south-central Bogotá, near the Primero de Mayo, feel privileged? After all, this avenue has a special bike/bus lane, as well as 'bike boxes' for waiting safely at intersections.

But the reality doesn't match the theory. On the pavement, here's the cycling experience:

Lots of bicyclsts....
But lots of other vehicles in the exclusive bike/bus lane.
Strict exclusivity!

Can you spot the bicycle?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

jueves, 21 de junio de 2018

Bogotá Public Bikes Plans Rolling Forward?

Public bicycles in Monteria, where they receive government support.
(Photo: La Razon)
El Tiempo reports that Bogotá's public bicycle program is actually moving forward - and shoul be rolling forward next year.

With luck, the public bike system will actually happen this time, after pilot projects which got nowhere and even a contract issued during the Petro administration, which from the start appeared viciated by corruption and unrealistic economics.

Unfortunately, Peñalosa's plan doesn't look so realistic either. He promises not to provide any public subsidies for the bicycle system, even tho they do receive such subsidies in many other cities, including even much wealthier ones than Bogotá.

That's because the bikes are conceived of as a public service, which pays back the city in benefits in health, reduced traffic congestion and less pollution.

In those cities where public bikes do not receive subsidies they do have wealthy corporate sponsors, often banks, such as Citibank in New York and Barclays in London. And those are also much wealthier cities than Bogotá, which receive many more tourists, who provide income for the system.

Besides all of that, cities subsidize bus and train systems, as well as private cars in many ways, such as subsidized gasoline. So, what's wrong with pitching in for public bicycles?

lunes, 18 de junio de 2018

Just a Bike Rack....

I must have passed by this spot hundreds of times since the Museo Nacional TransMilenio station was completed without realizing the transcendent nature of what I was seeing.

Several TransMilenio stations have huge, sophisticated bike parking facilities. But most of the express bus stations have no bike parking at all, despite it being a standard feature of transit facilities all over the world. Is this just shortsightedness and ignorance? An exaggerated fear of someone hiding a bomb on a bike? Concern about taking responsibility for parked bikes?

Whatever the mistaken reason, the lack of racks reduced the system's usefulness for   cyclists, and certainly meant lost passengers.

This particular bike rack, I suspect, was not created specifically to serve the bus station, but for the pedestrian region surrounding it. But the rack nevertheless serves the bus station, showing that no-frills bike racks and buses are compatible.

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours