viernes, 27 de noviembre de 2009

Bringing Curry to Colombia by Bike!

In 1972, Arun Pal left Calcutta for Munich on a bicycle and ended up in Bogotá in 2009 running an Indian food restaurant. Read his whole story in The City Paper.

Does he still ride a bicycle? The world wants to know!

This blog is written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours and Rentals.

sábado, 21 de noviembre de 2009

See the world without windows.

An article in Bogotá's El Tiempo newspaper profiles two cyclists, who lament the state of some of the city's Ciclorutas, their disconnectivity, the lack of parking and the inconsideration of many motorists. A city official responds that some Ciclorutas are being extended and that the city's electrical utility intends to move posts located in the middle of some cycle routes.

My comments, as always, are that the troubles with Bogotá biking go deeper than these inconveniences. They include chaotic traffic and pollution. 

Bogotá DOES have the region's best bicycle route network and deserves credit for that. however, the city could and shoud do much more to make the city more bikeable if it wants this clean trasnport to help resolve its traffic jams and clean its air.

This blog is written by Mike Ceaser of Bogota Bike Tours

lunes, 16 de noviembre de 2009

Tucson Bike Lawyer

Last week, we were visited by Erik Ryberg, a lawyer and bicyclist from Tucson, Arizona, who writes a blog called (of all things) Erik took a guided tour of the city's bike routes, rode on his own and rode in the famous Ciclovia. His impressions were varied - from admiration of some cycle routes and the Ciclovia, to disgust at the pollution and some unusable bike paths. 

Here's our conversation:

What are your general impressions of bicycling in Bogotá?

"The first thing I noticed compared to Mexico is the number of women on bicycles. In Mexico it's very rare to see women on bicycles. In all the time in Mexico I can only remember one woman on a bicycle. Commuting. Many ride do in their Ciclovia. 

"I also found the drivers really courteous. Compared to Tucson. In Tucson it's really common to find drivers going fast ride really close to you. In Tucson I was terrified of being hit from behind. In Bogotá, drivers do cut you off by turning in front of you. But being struck from behind wasn't a concern. 

"I actually didn't feel less safe here than in Tucson. In lots of ways I felt more safe. 

"And the Ciclorutas, given the constraints any city has, I thought they did a pretty good job. In the north they're beautiful, separated from the streets and so forth. That's not to say there aren't embarrassing places where they end, where they force you to do something dangerous, where there's a big hole in the route. I rode one where it was impossible to ride on the path because of the pedestrians. They put the cicloruta exactly where the (pedestrians) need to be. It's just a terrible design." 

And how about the pollution here?

"It's horrible. It's as bad as Mexico City. Pollution here is as bad as any place I've ever been. I was in Rome in the '70s and it's as bad as that. On Saturday it was a dystopia; the cars weren't moving at all and they were belching fumes." 

My observation: Well, hopefully it's not actually as bad as Mexico City. To its credit, the Colombia's state petroleum company has, very tardily, been reducing the sulfur content of the diesel fuel and the city has been trying, tho not nearly hard enough, to enforce emissions laws and to buy up and junk old, dirty buses. 

I expressed to Erik my frustration that so many things here just do not function sensibly: The city builds bike paths, but some are unuseable. There's little bike parking, and the expensive, new bike parking facility built near my neighborhood has never opened, years after construction...Erik tried comforting me by comparison with Tucson:

"We have a broken system in Tucson just like you have in Bogotá. We have a Ciclovia that's supposed to happen in March and may or may not happen. I want people to know what a Ciclovia is and for them to make an informed decision about it." 

But Bogotá, a city of eight million people, has no bicycle activist community! In relatively tiny Tucson, there is.

"In Tucson there's a lot of bike activists. There's a spontaneous ride every Tuesday night. The police tried to stop it, but didn't have much luck. I ended up representing a lot of people who got arrested or ticketed in that. It's not designed to aggravate drivers. We do our best to just take up one lane and stop at stop signs. We all ring our bells.

"We're winning: We're getting more and better bike infrastructure for sure. We're getting more respect from the police. When cyclists are hit by cars, the police don't automatically blame the bicyclist. There are just more and more of us. It's becoming a more legitimate way to get around town.

"You can put a bike on the bus. Tucson's buses get most places, but you have to wait about an hour."

If only that would happen in Bogotá! where increasing wealth and endless propaganda drive young people to want to buy cars. Here, unfortunately, bicycle commuters are mostly people who can't afford bus fare, much less cars.

Erik also observed something I've been griping about for years:

"The lack of bike racks around town is another issue. I saw a lot of people riding bikes, but where do they put them?"

In fact, a Bogotá law requires buildings and public parking lots to receive bicycles. But many do not. The last time I visited, not even the City Council building honored its own law.

But one thing did dazzle him: Bogotá's Ciclovia:

"I came because of the Ciclovia. It was pretty much what I expected. Although I hadn't expected the vibrancy of the whole aerobics dance thing. I'd seen the video of it, but it really helped to be there in person. I was really impressed with the skill of the people up on stage. I was really impressed with everybody. They obviously knew their jobs really well. Everybody was really happy. Everybody is always happy when they're riding bikes.

"Among bike advocates in America Peñalosa is really well known, and Bogotá's real well known as a place with a really ambitious bike route system and really ambitious Ciclovia. It'll be a shame if they continue chipping away at the Ciclovia."

(He refers to the fact that, for expansion of the Transmilenio express-bus system, the city has removed parts of the Ciclovia, including Boyaca Ave. and 26th St. - although we're pressing to get those back.)

And Erik said his experience here contradicted the popular image of Colombia

"Colombia has such a bad reputation in the states. Even now. People assume that if you're coming here, you're coming here to do cocaine. You'll get kidnapped. I rode my bike all over the place," and didn't get kidnapped! 

This blog is written by Mike Ceaser of Bogota Bike Tours.

viernes, 13 de noviembre de 2009

Another Victory for Bicycles!

Rush hour, but nobody's moving!
This morning, a cyclist, a Transmilenio rider and a car driver 'raced' 7.5 kms across Bogotá during the morning rush hour. Naturally, the cyclist (Ferreira, the city councilman who plan to create a public bicycles program) arrived first, in 20 minutes. The Transmilenio rider arrived ten minutes later, and finally the car driver, five minutes after him. 

Hopefully, this will convince a few more Bogotanos to cut their commute time in half by dusting off their bikes. Unfortunately, the Transmilenio rider, who also heads the National Federation of Retailers, FENALCO, did nothing but complain about the system's 'inhumanely' crowded conditions. It was, unsurprisingly, the first time that he'd used the system, and probably the last. Transmilenio is crowded because it works. I'm sure that he considers sitting in his car for hours trapped in traffic and spewing pollution much more humane. Incidentally, FENALCO wants to sell cars.

This blog is written by Mike Ceaser of Bogota Bike Tours

miércoles, 11 de noviembre de 2009

More Talk than Action!

This afternoon, several NGOs and universities held a meeting about Bogotá's troubled transit situation and  bicycles' potential role in improving it. Naturally, the sentiments were sensible and accurate - if the number of cars here keeps growing, the city will become strangled. Even if this was mostly preaching to the converted, the message was nice to hear. 

There's a plan in the works to create a public bicycles program here, called 'Bici-centro' or 'Bici-Bogota,' which would be great - if it works. And a professor from Central University is doing a study on transit, and the role bicycles can play in that. 

But, while all of these studies and plans are making their slow way through the bureaucracy, and hopefully not en route to the round file, nobody at all is yelling about the severe problems Bogotá cyclists suffer right now - pollution, lack of parking, chaotic traffic, the possible disappearance of the the Ciclovía's main section. 

By the time that all of these wonderful plans and studies are ready, I wonder whether Bogotá will still be bikeable.

This blog is written by Mike Ceaser, owner of Bogota Bike Tours.

domingo, 8 de noviembre de 2009

Cargo Bikes

If you've ever thought about spending hundreds or thousands of bucks in order to trailer your groceries home in style, take a look at these home-made Colombian cargo trailers.

This blog is written by Mike Ceaser of Bogota Bike Tours

sábado, 7 de noviembre de 2009

How to Not Park Bicycles

This handsome bicycle parking facility was built beside the Las Aguas Transmilenio station, near the La Candelaria neighborhood. It has a sophisticated elevator to reach the second floor, space for more than 100 bikes and even lockable footlockers for people to store their things. 

Sounds like an important step for cyclists by a forward-thinking city government, right? Sure would be - if it were open. But it isn't. 

More than two years after this sophisticated and expensive (but poorly designed) structure was finished, it's still closed. Today, there were about three bikes parked there. But only vendors from a single street vendors' center can park their bikes there - and only if they have a special permit from a particular municipal government agency. Upstairs, there were several dozen bicycles used by the 'guards' during the Sunday Ciclovia. Talk about an expensive way to store bikes, which could simply be leaning against a wall in a warehouse. 

What's the lesson in this? That in the city government there are people with good intentions to promote cycling. But, somewhere between the idea and the act, something goes wrong - bureaucracy, incompetence, poor planning - whatever. To me, it also looks like yet another example of Bogotá's top-down planning practices. Did they consult with real bicycle commuters before deciding to build a parking facility whose sides are built of slats which let the often-torrential rain in? Did they consult with other mass transit bike parking facilities before deciding to build this, apparently without any plan for operating it?

Did they study the potential demand before deciding to build large, expensive facilities at a few stations, rather than just placing cheap, simple bike racks at all the stations?

I've commented and complained about this situation (and there are three more of them in Bogotá) over the years, to little avail. Sadly, most likely one day a politico will seize on this as an example of why we shouldn't waste money on bicycles, but build instead more car parking lots - which do get used (and don't require permits to park). Nobody will observe that bicyclists didn't ask for or help design this project. 

The word I'm hearing about this facility is that it hasn't opened because the government hasn't found a private entrepreneur to manage the thing for a profit. The reason is obvious: the few hundred or thousand pesos which most cyclists here would be willing to pay to park their bikes will never pay the costs. Of course, that's true in wealthy countries, as well. The problem here is a fundamental error in approach: a bike parking facility should not be seen as a commercial venture like a parking lot for cars, but rather a public service, similar to a library, meant to promote a public good.

Let's hope that the public bikes project which one city councilman wants to create is better planned and carried out.

To the city government's credit there are large, well-used bike parking facilities at some of the Transmilenio terminals, mostly in the city's poorer, southern neighborhoods.

This blog is written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours and Rentals

lunes, 2 de noviembre de 2009

Bike Route Needed!

This six-lane street runs from Simon Bolivar Park - a major cyclist destination - to 26th St., which has one of the nicest ciclorutas in Bogotá. 

So, why doesn't this street, of all places, have a cycle route? It's wide enough, cars drive fast and cyclists use it. 

Even more absurd, to get onto the 26th St. cicloruta, one has to hoist the bike up over this tall curb. Why no ramp?