domingo, 19 de diciembre de 2010

Bike Stolen!

Today, a kid who helps out Bogotá Bike Tours was riding up Seventh Ave. delivering a bicycle to a hotel in North Bogotá when another cyclist blocked his path. When the kid braked, another guy pulled him to the ground and jumped onto his bike and rode off.
Thus, Bogotá Bike Tours lost the best bike we had, and an almost unique one. So, look out for a large blue bike with 'Diamond' written on its lower tube.

Bicycles are very stealeable, since they're small, portable, easy to hide and hard to trace. Most anti-theft advice involves buying a better lock. But if thieves are willing to pull you right off of your bike, it's hard to imagine how to stop them. Unless....

In this case, the kid said the Ciclovia was quite busy when he got mugged, at about 10:30 a.m. Lots of folks were around, and many even stopped riding to watch the crime. But nobody did anything. If only a few of the other cyclists had blocked the thief with their own bikes or grabbed his shirt, he probably would have leaped off of the bike and hotfooted away. After all, from my experience it doesn't take much to dissuade thieves, who are usually cowardly types going after easy money. If criminals were into challenging themselves, they'd get jobs and work.

But nobody did anything - even though their own bicycle could be next.

Bystander apathy is terribly common in Bogotá. A few months ago, a friend and his girlfriend got mugged by several kids with knives. A bunch of guys doing roadwork just a couple of yards away saw the crime, but did nothing. Perhaps they were afraid of getting mugged themselves on their way home from work. Or, maybe, like the local security guard who, I was told, was threatened the other day by a pair of professional muggers on a motorbike, who told him: 'You interfered with our mugging someone the other day. Do that again, and we're going to get you!'

As long as the general, law-abiding, public remains passive and afraid, criminals will continue stealing almost  worry-free.

But it doesn't take much. A few months ago I witnessed three kids mug a young couple. Perhaps I should have charged them swinging a board or something. Instead, after some hesitation, I just screamed at them to stop. Amazingly, the muggers did, and ran off. Other people in the street had apparently also seen the incident, but did nothing.

When we filed the police report about today's stolen bike, however, the officer made a good point about our own apathy. Once before, a bicycle got stolen from in front of our shop. Two of us went down to the shops notorious for buying and selling used, obviously stolen, bikes at absurdly low prices. There we found the guy standing with his hand on my just-bought bike. By threatening him with the police, we forced the guy to return the bike.

But we didn't file any police report, leaving the shop free to continue fencing other people's stolen bicycles.

I also asked him why, then, they didn't do something about the city's grave problem of sewer lid thievery. All they'd have to do would be hire some homeless person to visit scrap buyers with a lid, and see which ones bought it. Unlike bicycles, nobody has their own sewer lids, so the buyer and seller are by definition thieves. No, he said, that would be 'inducing someone to commit a crime,' and a sharp lawyer would free his client on such a defense.

I've heard this before. Can it really be true that Colombia doesn't allow such a fundamental police strategy as a sting operation?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

lunes, 13 de diciembre de 2010

My Battle Up La Cicloruta de la 13/11

Live a video game! Ride Bogotá's Ciclorutas!

Bogotá's Ciclorutas are supposed to facilitate the lives of cyclists, but it certainly doesn't always seem that way.

Today, I rode from downtown to the Foreign Ministry to the DAS police headquarters, most of the way on one of Bogotá's most important Ciclorutas, the one on carreras 13 and then 11.

A typical scene on the 'bike route.'
Would anybody tolerate pedestrians blocking cars this way?
Many times, as I hurried behind schedule, I had to brake suddenly and swerve around delivery vehicles, cars (at intersections) and pedestrians, who wandered across the bikeway or suddenly veered into it. I suppose that you can't blame them. While the Cicloruta receives significant use, it's not constant enough to keep pedestrians aware of it. This arrangement is a tragedy waiting to happen. Once, I almost slammed into a woman carrying an infant who wandered across the cycle path.

Even these cops weren't shy about standing in the Cicloruta
I don't usually advocate broadening streets, but in this case an in-street bike lane, with a barrier to protect it from cars, would be much more useful and probably safer than the sidewalk set-up. But on the other hand, it'd force cyclists to swallow even more diesel exhaust.

Hmm...wonder what this Cicloruta, along Jimenez Ave., is used for. 
Unfortunately, a substantial number of Cicloruta users were motorized monsters, who belong out on the street. During my ride north and south I encountered five motorized bikes on the Cicloruta. Apparently, no law applies to vehicles with such small engines. Enforcement is another issue. Lacking any pollution or noise controls, motorized bikes are bad enough. But once their presence becomes accepted on Ciclorutas I fear that regular motorcycles will follow.

Bicycle or motorcycle? At least we're cycle-pooling.
After fixing a flat, I arrived at the Foreign Ministry office with only minutes to spare before it closed at 12 noon. I rushed into the automobile parking lot across the street, where I'd left my bike before - but something had changed.

"We don't receive bikes here," the attendant told me.

"But the law requires you to!" I protested.

"Show me the law," he told me.

I had no time to argue, and went around the corner to lock my bike to a tree.

No bicycles allowed any more. 
On the way home, a downpour had made room on the Cicloruta.
At least the rain makes room. 
On the way, I encountered El Toma Corriente's shop. They sell electric bikes designed in Colombia but built in China out of Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese parts. (Why can't Colombia build such things competitively???) The bikes cost a bit - 1.8 million pesos ($1,000) and upward. And the batteries must be replaced after about 1,000 recharging cycles - and constitute half of the bikes' cost.
But e-bikes don't pollute or make noise and require much less maintenance than gasoline-powered bikes. And, here in Colombia, where most electricity comes from hydropower, they contribute much less to global warming, as well. I've seen at least two e-bike vendors in Bogotá, (the other sells Ezip Currie bikes) but the guys at El Toma Corriente told me there are about seven.

 By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

sábado, 11 de diciembre de 2010

Arboreal Bicycle Parking

Secure bicycle parking can be hard to find in Bogotá. Many car parking lots refuse bicycles - despite the law requiring them to accept them. Or, try locking your bike to a pole on a sidewalk and you could be pounced on (as I've been) by police and security guards enraged at this violation of civil order. On the other hand, if you do manage to park your bike in public, don't be too surprised if it's a bit lighter on your return.

But this guy, whom we met during a bike tour, did manage to find secure bicycle parking - and on an upper story, no less. His treehouse is alongside the Iglesia Santa Ana in the Teusaquillo neighborhood.
See anything funny about those trees on the left?
No lock needed up here.

Taking the down elevator. 

Tree man
Here's the tree man, Glautier Nieves Estrada, on his bike. He's lived up there for seven years and appears happy with his lodgings, despite some hostility from neighbors. He makes his living by scavenging the trash for saleable recyclables, so he's doing his bit for the environment.

He comes from a peasant family from the Valle del Cauca region. They were driven out by paramilitaries, who this man said chopped their victims into pieces, and became more of Colombia's millions of people displaced by the country's armed conflict. He lost contact with all of his relatives, including his three daughters.

UPDATE In early January 2011 the man's house disappeared from his tree. I'd heard that some neighbors had complained about him, so perhaps they removed his things while he was gone. He's probably under a bridge, now.

Or, perhaps he reunited with his daughters. We can always hope.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

jueves, 9 de diciembre de 2010

Bogotá's Nocturnal Ciclovia - is no Ciclovia at all!

Is this a Ciclovía?
Bogotá's annual Nocturnal 'Ciclovía' happened on Dec. 8. Thousands and thousands of bogotanos, almost all of them on foot, packed Bogotá's central avenues and parks and had a great time admiring the Christmas lights. But, with the streets so crowded that you could barely turn around, it was no Ciclovía!
Any room to cycle here?
Bogotá BikeTours managed to do a tour, (with lots of walking). Why is it that one night when it's impossible to bicycle on La Septima is our biggest night of the year?
The National Park was all lit up.
And Independence Park was full of flying fish!
 By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

domingo, 28 de noviembre de 2010

Bogotá Pedaling Backwards?

Public bicycles in Santiago, Chile
Traditionally, when Latin American urban cycling came up, Bogotá, Colombia was the subject. After all, Bogotá pioneered the Ciclovía and built the region's largest network of bicycle paths.

But all that was several mayors ago. Bogotá's recent mayors not only have ceased extending the bicycle route network, but they've let much of it decay. And, while La Ciclovía is great, parts of it have been chopped off, mostly to make way for extensions of the city's Transmilenio express-bus system.

Meanwhile, other Latin American cities have been moving forward with bicycle promotion, and some of what they're doing is impressive.
Mexico City's Ecobicis
In Mexico City, where the city loans out bikes for Sunday rides, they've created a public bicycle system called Ecobici and are building 94 kilometers of bicycle lanes (named Ciclovias), including one along Paseo de la Reforma, the city's principal avenue. The great importance of these changes are that they give cycling greater visibility and status. Isolated bike lanes are controversial even among cyclists, but when cyclists have their own, protected, lane along La Reforma that sends a strong message: Non-motorized transport is important and deserves respect!
You won't get far on this Bogotá Bike Lane
Santiago, Chile is also extending its bike path network, and its La Providencia neighborhood has created a public bicycle system which is expanding.

But perhaps Buenos Aires, Argentina deserves the laurels for its biking plans. The city is not only planning a public bicycle system and building 100 kms of bike lanes, it also offers city employees subsidies for bicycle purchases.

Bicycling in Buenos Aires (where you don't have to dodge pedestrians)
How about Bogotá? Unfortunately, with the exception of the bike parking structures at four Transmilenio stations - which opened only years after being built, Bogotá's recent advances for cycling could fit inside this number: 0.

Certainly, none of these projects are easy or uncontroversial. Some cyclists call separated bike lanes dangerous, saying that they segregate cyclists, who should have equal rights with cars on the road. That makes sense in London, Toronto and Melbourne, where traffic is civilized and drivers respect cyclists' rights. But in  Bogotá many people will dare venture out on two wheels only when they feel protected in a special lane from the chaos of the city's aggressive motorized traffic.

Where do I go from here? Between a bus and the curb on Bogotá's Seventh Ave. 
And it's not clear how viable a public bikes program would be in Bogotá, particularly in the center. After all, the National University tried the idea on its campus, which is surrounded by a fence, and finally had to give up after too many bikes were damaged and stolen.

It also appears clear to me that the best thing Bogotá can do for cycling doesn't even relate directly to cycling. That would be to tame the city's traffic (through demand management) and take real steps to reduce pollution. For this, hopefully the ongoing extentions to the city's Transmilenio system and the implementation of the Integrated Public Transit System (SITP) will finally modernize the buses reign in the traffic chaos.

One that's done, then bike lanes and a public bicycle program could just succeed.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

lunes, 22 de noviembre de 2010

La Ciclovía de la Septima Survives! (But keep watching)

At a meeting today in Bogotá's Urban Development Institute (IDU), officials made three key promises:

* During the impending year-long construction of a Transmilenio line on Bogotá's Seventh Ave., La Ciclovía will be given an alternative route.

* Once the TM line is operating - supposedly at the end of 2011 - La Ciclovía will return to Seventh Ave.

* And the 26 St. Ciclovía, which disappeared for construction of another TM line, will return once work is (finally) done.

The officials also committed to looking again at the Ciclovía lines which disappeared from 30th and Boyaca Sts because of Transmilenio.

But before we declare complete victory, look at the official proposed alternative Seventh Ave. Ciclovía route:

After following Seventh Ave. as normal past the Bullfighting Stadium, the route turns right uphill, to 5th Ave. and then north for about 15 blocks, passing through the infamous La Perseverancia neighborhood, and then turning down through the National Park, passing through Teusaquillo to 17th Ave. and then north to 73rd St., which goes back to Seventh Ave.

Expect a substantial drop in Ciclovía participation. The climb and the need to pass through La Perseverancia and other rough areas along 17th Ave. will discourage people, as will the much greater length.

But let's look at it from the perspective that no other possible route could equal 7th Ave., which is broad, flat and passes by many of the city's landmarks. (The officials at the meeting said that keeping La Ciclovía on 7th Ave. was not realistic: there will be lots of heavy equipment and excavations, and much of the street will be shut down by the construction.)

The officials said they considered: safety, traffic needs and the importance of passing through the National Park.

Angelica Lozano, leader of an organization defending La Ciclovía, proposed an alternative route following Caracas Ave.. for much of its length. But officials asserted that the Transmilenio operating on the same street pose too great a risk for the Ciclovía crowd, which includes seniors, children and pets, so that option didn't sound probable.

The most positive news from the meeting was officials' promise that the Ciclovía will return to Seventh Ave. when construction is completed, hopefully by the end of 2011. And officials appear to have thought through the coexistence of the Ciclovía and Transmilenio on Seventh Ave. The plan is for all traffic, including TM, to use only Seventh Ave's western half during Ciclovía hours. The difference between Seventh Ave. and Caracas's TM lines is that Caracas is one of TM's trunk corridors, meaning a much greater frequency of buses. In contrast, some of Caracas Ave's buses can be diverted onto Caracas Ave. during La Ciclovía.

The Ciclovia on 26th St., which passes the Central Cemetery, the Nacho and the airport, disappeared without warning. 
Don't overlook the tremendous contrast between the fates of 26th Street's Ciclovía and 7th Ave.'s. The 26th St. Ciclovia was closed months ago with no public discussion, outcry or replacement plans. Those who have demonstrated, collected signatures and spoken out in the media in defense of Seventh Ave's Ciclovía deserve credit for making public officials take cyclists and others into account.

During the meeting, we were entertained by the blaring horns from traffic jams a dozen floors below and several blocks away. Those traffic jams will only grow worse as 110,000 additional cars enter Bogotá every year. Hopefully, perhaps, tal vez, this meeting will start a new official attitude giving cyclists and other clean transport priority over cars, or at least a fighting chance.

Certainly, it's hard to imagine a transport system that's dirtier, slower and less efficient than the traffic on Seventh and Fifth Avenues, which run on either side of the IDU building, and offer no room for cyclists.

Seventh Ave. Nothing moving. Any room for bikes?
 There's certainly lots left to be done in Bogotá. Will they build a bike route or other facilities for cyclists on Seventh Ave? Will the planned TM line on Sixth St. include a Cicloruta? Will the IDU HQ building replace the bike parking rack it used to have by its entrance?

There used to be a bike rack here.
 By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours.

jueves, 18 de noviembre de 2010

Flashmob for Mobility - but Tomorrow?

Today, a group of students of the Universidad Jorge Tadeo, an important Bogotá private university, held a 'flashmob' today. For the students, communication students, this event was one of their semester projects.

We started out by donning cardboard car costumes in a neighboring parking lot, and then rolling out onto the street, where we formed a caravan and moved down the street honking on little plastic horns. Predictably, we caused a traffic jam behind us, and the drivers immediately began leaning on their horns. After all, losing three minutes of television time is much more important than witnessing a dozen college students parading down the street wearing colored cardboard cars and blowing on blaring plastic horns. But, there's a principle involved here: nothing ever has a right to get in the way of cars, except for other cars.

We deposited the cardboard cars on the Tadeo's concrete plaza and mounted our bikes and road in circles, demonstrating that cars cause traffic jams and how much faster and more agile bicycles are.

Afterwards, I asked several of the students how they commuted to university: 'by bus, they said. Too far to bicycle.'

To its credit (and in obedience to the law) Tadeo U. has bicycle parking, consisting of a small rack in a sprawling auto parking lot a block away from the campus where thousands of students study. (I have been told that in order to use the bike rack, you have to sign up before the semester starts.) Today, there was only one bike parked there, and I'd be willing to bet that it belongs to a local security guard or the parking lot employee.

The flashmob students whom I'd accompanied pedaled their bikes across the parking lot and loaded them into a car for the trip home.
Everybody put on your car costumes!
After motoring up the street and causing a traffic jam, the car costumes com off. 

After abandoning the cars....
With trees on our backs, we rode around the campus.
Afterwards, the students pedaled into the university's car parking lot. Note the lonely bike rack. The students loaded the bikes into a car for the drive home.
On nearby 19th Ave. the traffic made its own traffic jam, without students' help.
By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

domingo, 14 de noviembre de 2010

The Fight Continues for La Ciclovía de la Septima!

Save La Ciclovía! cries Yolanda.

Today, Bogotá's annual Day of the Bicycle, a crack team of defenders of La Ciclovía de la Septima gathered thousands of signatures in support of the most important section of Bogotá's Ciclovía.

Just about everyone we talked to gave enthusiastic support - that's no surprise: After all, La Ciclovia provides wholesome, healthy, fun, and above all FREE recreation for all Bogotanos. La Ciclovía has also given worldwide fame to Colombia's capital. La Ciclovía also generates thousands of jobs for vendors, musicians and bike repair people. And experts say that each peso invested by the city in La Ciclovía pays back much more in public health and quality of life. So it's sad that in recent years sections have been chopped off of La Ciclovía, mostly for Transmilenio expansions. It will be downright tragic if La Septima, La Ciclovía's most important section, goes too. 

Yolanda, for her energy and optimism, Angelica, for her charisma and dedication, Aristobulo for his ability to get things done, Juan Sebastian for moving gears and levers in city government, the folks at Mejor en Bici and La Ciclovía Se Respeta and many others all deserve Bogotá's gratitude for their efforts to defend one of the city's greatest institutions.  
By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

Aristobulo, Angelica, Yolanda and others.
A few of the thousands of Ciclovía riders.

Green Man speaks out for La Ciclovía
Kids sign for La Ciclovía

Juan, of Bogotá Bike Tours, for La Ciclovía
Even Parchita turned out for La Ciclovía

Bogotá's Bicycle Day

Every day should be 'bicycle day'. November 14 was Bogotá's bicycle day. The day celebrated bikes, but unfortunately did not promote practical cycling. The emphasis unfortunately was on acrobatics and zaniness.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Some scenes in the National Park.

See the daring young man on the flying bike!
These bikes are called Harleys (without the noise). 
The weird bikes competition. 
One-of-a-kind Harley wooden bike. 
This man, who trains dogs, pedaled a dogmobile. 
Green Man, who has a one-man campaign to green up Bogotá's mindset, made an appearance.