viernes, 28 de octubre de 2016

A Bicycle Promotion Law

Cyclists in a bike lane in north Bogotá.
A law approved by Parliament this week promotes bicycle use - but only half-heartedly.

The instructs mass transit agencies to provide bike parking, but doesn't appear to specify exactly how much parking, or what sort of conditions. Bogotá's TransMilenio has some impressive, massive bike parking lots on end-line stations - but the great majority of stations have no bike parking at all. Will this actually be enforced, or will transit agencies just plop a cheap bike rack in a back lot somewhere?

The law also requires government agencies - but not private companies - to provide bike parking equal to 10% of their car parking. That's not a lot, and it only covers public agencies. So, it's a step forward, but only a small one.

The law includes some interesting incentives. Those who travel to the public bus systems by bike for
Biking down Carrera Septima.
30 days get one free bus ride. That's not much, but it's something. And public workers who commute by bike are to get a paid afternoon off for every 30 bike commutes.

Transit systems are also supposed to try to make arrangements for riders to travel with their bicycles, as well as equip vehicles with bike racks. Will transit systems cooperate with this? How many cyclists would risk mounting their bike on the back of a bus, within reach of thieves at every stoplight?
A parked vehicle blocks a bike lane.
Enforcing traffic laws might help.

The new bike law is a step forward, at least as a public signal that the nation does support two-wheeled transit. But it also falls way short - primarily in its failure to include private companies in its policies. I suppose that the parliamentarians didn't want to make enemies.

The law also has a huge failure. Apparently (I've read only news reports about it), the law doesn't bother to define a bicycle as a 'motorless vehicle powered by its rider.' Doing that would finally ban those polluting, dangerous motorized bikes from bike lanes, sidewalks and La Ciclovia.

Still a bicycle? A noisy, polluting bike-with-a-motor.

lunes, 12 de septiembre de 2016

Steps Forward, Steps Back

In the year or so since my camera broke and I got too busy to blog, Bogotá has moved forward on some bike issues - and backward on others.

They've added bike lanes - some of which are actually useful and well-used.

A new bike lane in Teusaquillo actually demands respect for cyclists.

But here's what traffic does to the lane. (Spot the cyclist trying to cross Avenida Caracas.)

And which transit genius decided that nobody would ever want to enter the lane from the west?

And here's a lane along Calle 11 in north Bogotá. It's satisfying pedaling past cars stuck in traffic.

But I just wish they'd keep the motorized bikes out of the lanes...

More to the south, the lane still runs on the sidewalk. Here's a rare sight: a bicycle traffic jam.
And, finally after years satisfying what's a personal issue of mine, after years of delay and mulitple complaints from cyclists, the city's transit geniuses finally decided that cyclistas had the right to safely cross this street behind the Central Cemetery. Until they retimed the lights, giving cyclists and pedestrians time to cross. They even added a signal for cyclists.

Green means go for cyclists.
But that doesn't stop cars from parking in the bike lanes.
Previously, as soon as the cars driving north across the bike lane stopped, other cars immediately starting turning left across the lane. That left no time between car traffic for bikes or pedestrians to cross, generating constant conflicts between cyclists and motorists. 

But the news isn't so great for public bikes. 

A few months ago, then-new Mayor Enrique Peñalosa - who campaigned for mayor on a bike - terminate the IDRD's bike lending programs on Carrera 7, in the Universidad Nacional and Parque El Virrey. Apparently, the program cost too much. 

The program was, irrationaly, limited. You coul not pick up a bike in one part of the city and drop it off in another, for example. But it was Bogotá's only public bikes lending program. 

That was then: Public bikes on Carrera Septima.
Where are they now? Rusting away somewhere.
And the city's much-vaunted general public bikes program, which Mayor Petro issued the contract for last year?

Not a single bike has hit a street. That's not surprising, since neither the Colombian nor the Chinese companies which one the contract had experience with bicycles, the Colombian partner had been involved in two corruption scandals, and the contract's business model was totally unrealistic. (The contractee was supposed to pay the city, whereas just about everywhere else, public bikes lending schemes lose money and are either subsidized by their cities or receive lots of advertising income.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

miércoles, 30 de septiembre de 2015

Laws for Biking?

It has an engine, burns fuel, belches smoke and goes vroom. So is it a bicycle or a motorcycle? 
Colombian lawmakers are considering pro-cycling laws right now - but unfortunately they likely won't get much priority - and lots of opposition.

A bici-motor in a downtown bike lane.
One would prohibit bicycles equipped with motors from bike lanes. It might just seem like common sense that a bicycle with a motor is, by definition, a motorcycle. However, because the motors' have less than 50 cc of displacement, the city's motor vehicle laws don't cover them, That's despite their being very noisy and often generating more pollution than a car, since their two-stroke engines burn oil.

One complication with banning the motorized bikes from bike lanes is distinguishing them from electric bikes, which are also motor-powered, but don't pollute or make much noise and go much slower than gasoline-powered motor-bikes. The electric bikes aren't a problem, the gasoline-powered ones are.

In any case, if this legislation nears becoming law, you can expect the motor-bikes' makers and users to scream that barring them from bike lanes violates their human rights. But that's not all. Even when they're on the street, they should be equipped with anti-pollution devices and their riders should be licensed.

A second law, in Congress, is intended to promote cycling - actually has some good things: It would provide some financial incentives, albeit small ones, for frequent cyclists, and would also give extra time off for public employees who commute by bike.

Unfortunately, the benefits are slight compared to the huge subsidies given to motor vehicles, such as free parking and subsidized fuel - not to mention the non-stop onslaught of pro-car propaganda.

The law's most important benefit might be a change of mentality legitimizing bike commuting in a climate where many workplaces provide no place for bike parking, much less showers or a changing room.

Businesses will undoubtedly oppose this legislation, as more costs and government regulation. This despite the fact that more bike commuters means healthier employees, and each worker who switches from driving to cycling can mean big savings in less parking.

By Mike Ceaser of Bogota Bike Tours

jueves, 24 de septiembre de 2015

Petro's Polemic Bike Lanes

Cars wait beside an empty bike lane on Calle 39, in Teusaquillo.
Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro is using the last months of his term to add bike lanes to some of the city's avenues - and earning ire for it. Neighbors and motorists have complained and even organized protests against proposed lanes.

But isn't there a logical flaw here? Drivers complain because they feel that bike lanes steal space from them, slowing them down and increasing congestion.
Cars stuck in a traffic jam beside a bike lane on Calle 24. None of these people could have used a bicycle instead?
But don't these lanes, rather, offer an escape route from the inevitable and worsening traffic jams? The number of private cars in Bogotá is booming, and a first subway line - which won't solve traffic congestion, anyway - is more than a decade away. City leaders are afraid of the only realistic solution, a congestion charge. So, the bike lanes are commuters only real escape hatch from traffic jams.

Instead of complaining about traffic jams, drivers should start taking advantage of them. And they should remember that each of those annoying cyclists is potentially one fewer driver slowing them down.

A cyclist waits for a light to change in a bike lane along the Parkway in Teusaquillo.

A group of cyclists in the new bike lane on Calle 39.
And here's a street, Ave. Caracas, which could use a bike lane.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

miércoles, 10 de junio de 2015

Bogotá Drops Off The List

Where's Bogotá?
A decade ago, Bogotá, Colombia was of obligatory inclusion in any list of bike-friendly cities. The Colombian capital was that surprising example of the troubled, developing world nation, scourged by violence which nevertheless managed to promote sustainable transit, including cycling.

Cyclists riding in the bike lane on Carrera Septima,
from which Mayor Petro banned car traffic during the day.
That was then. Today, while Bogotá still has some worthwhile cycling initiatives, other cities have leapfrogged it, with successful public bikes programs, expanding cycle ways networks and traffic calming policies. That shows in Copenhagenize's recent rankings of bike-friendly cities, in which Bogotá doesn't even appear. (It has not in previous rankings, either.)

Certainly, Bogotá does deserve some points. Mayor Gustavo Petro has promoted cycling, altho more with slogans and p.r. than durable changes on the pavements. He's added bike lanes and banned cars from Carrera Septima (altho that positive move will likely end with his administration, I suspect). But Petro's billboards and radio spots telling Bogotanos that two wheels are better than four hasn't exactly produced a flood of cyclists. Rather, Petro has overseen a record increase in private car use and actually a drop in bike commuting, if statistics are to be trusted.

The Colombian capital also falls flat in terms of public bicycles. The Petro administration did, finally,
A solitary cyclist on a main Bogotá avenue. Cyclists
account for only a few percent of Bogotá trips.
issue a contract for such a program a few months ago. But the contract conditions are economically inviable, it seems to me, and neither do the company's owner's history of corruption problems bode well for the program.

As for cyclists' social acceptance and traffic conditions: Don't ask me after a day like today, when cars refused to stop for cyclists unless we physically blocked them, and cabbies seemed disposed to run right over us, when confronted by the outrageous prospect of giving way to a non-motorized vehicle. If Bogotá managed to achieve a two-wheeled modal share of 20% or even 10%, then motor vehicles might get used to us and give us some respect. But just a few percentage points won't do it.

Mayor Petro's administration created a public bike lending program, but it's not very useful for transportation. 
A woman carries her child on her bike. Female cyclists are still a minority in Bogotá.

And the bad...

On Carrera Septima, a cyclist wears a mask for protection against pollution.

Near the Universidad Nacional, cyclists using a bike lane wait to cross a street, as cars ignore a stop sign.
And the cyclists continue waiting, futily. (I had to block the cars to enable them to finally cross.)
This intersection above Calle 26 can force cyclists and pedestrians to stop and wait three times while crossing.
This one-way street in central Bogotá is heavily used by cyclists heading toward Carrera Septima, obliging them to ride illegally against traffic. Why not add a bike lane?

Would you risk this? A cyclist maneuvers among buses in central Bogotá.

However, reputations don't die easily...

'A cyclist's paradise?' The Lonely Planet tourist guide still believes it...

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

miércoles, 22 de abril de 2015

A Nice Day for (the Few) Cyclists

A bicyclist enjoys open road space on the normally car-choked NQS today.
Today's extra Petro-sponsored Car-Free Day appeared to motivate more Bogotanos to stay home than to switch to other forms of transit. But for those who did use their bikes, the open street space and lower pollution did make cycling lots more pleasant.

For the first time that I can recall, the Car-Free Day included a Ciclovia, normally just on Sundays and holidays. 

But even with all that, the number of cyclists didn't seem much greater than normal.

Bogotá's occasional Car-Free Days, while well intentioned to change people's transit habits, are too few and far between to accomplish much. Instead, Petro should back the London-style congestion charge which he promised us upon election, but then abandoned in the face of political opposition.

According to El Tiempo, bicycle - or, bike parking lot - use rose 9.2%, SITP bus use rose 19% and pollution dropped 15%.

Contrast with a cyclist trapped in traffic on a normal day.
A few cyclists on La Ciclovia on 26th Street near the Universidad Nacional.

Bicycles - well, a few of them - use a bike lane near the Universidad Nacional.
This bicyclist on the NQS near Palo Quemao today had lots of space.
Not so nice for cycling: The same stretch of NQS on a normal, polluted, traffic-choked day.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

jueves, 9 de abril de 2015

What Bicycle Boom?

Wow! There' a cyclist among those cars!
Can you spot the cyclists in these photos, among all the cars?

The cyclist is the dot on the upper left.
A month ago, after the bicycle summit in Medellin, there was much talk of a 'bicycle boom' in Colombia, and across Latin America. Maybe it's true in some places, and one does see lots of bikes in specific spots in Bogotá.

But the real boom here, tragically, is in private cars. And a recent report by the DANE made it official: in Colombia, bicycle commuting is actually DOWN from last year, while commuting to work by car is INCREASING.

According to the DANE, bicycle commuting dropped dramatically from 4.4% in 2013 to 3.5% last year
El Tiempo 'Use of cars increases and of bicycles drops.'
Of course, this shouldn't be surprising. For all of the Petro administration's commendable pro-bike publicity campaigns and new bike lanes, they can't compete with the economic and propaganda onslaught pushing private car use.

'Free Parking.' Free parking is not only a huge subsidy for car driving, but also sends a message that you are supposed to drive everywhere.
But Petro could still save the situation, by supporting the London-style congestion charge he talked about upon election (but then proceeded to abandon).

There a cyclist!
Thousands of cyclists turn out on Sundays and Holidays for La Ciclovia. But few of these people go to work or school on two wheels.
When many bicyclists, like this guy, feel compelled to wear gas masks because authorities don't bother to control pollution, is it any wonder that lots of people fear pedaling?
One of the chronic traffic jams in La Candelaria. On the hill above the neighborhood the private Universidad Externado is building a huge parking garage. 

Any bikes in sight?
Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours