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.

jueves, 11 de noviembre de 2010

The Bicitaxistas Fight for their Right to Pedal!

They're quick, agile, quiet, non-polluting and inexpensive. Sounds like the perfect vehicle, right? Right.

But not if you drive a traditional polluting taxicab and believe they're taking away your business.

Thousands of bicitaxis - pedal-powered rickshaws which can carry two or three passengers in back - work in Bogotá, carrying passengers for short distances. However, as a recent El Tiempo story pointed out, they're all illegal. 

It's insane. A city with terrible and worsening traffic congestion and lots of pollution prohibits clean transport. But it's not surprising, considering that the regular taxi drivers pack a political wallop and want to protect their turf. This is despite the bicitaxistas' argument that they don't compete much with auto-taxis, since they carry people only short distances, rarely more than a dozen blocks.

All of which is irrelevant, anyway. The bicitaxis are less expensive, maybe faster and non-polluting. They deserve to run the polluting machines out of business.

Instead, the city has managed to call the 'solution' a 'problem.'

Pity the poor bicitaxista. He works 12 hours a day, one tells me, and can take in about 30 - 40,000 pesos. But, if his taxi is rented, about 15,000 of that goes to the owner, leaving him only some $8 to $13 for a day's sweating. Income depends on factors like the weather, mechanical troubles, and the day of the week.

The bicitaxistas also have to contend with the police, who sometimes confiscate their pedicabs, requiring a 200,000 peso retrieval charge from  
patios. A new bicitaxi costs about two million pesos.
But, as difficult and low-paid as it is, the bicitaxis provide jobs for many people who, because of their age, life history or lack of skills, can't find other kinds of work.

Armando, who has pedaled a bicitaxi for almost a decade near the Plaza de los Martires in central Bogotá, says that about 60 bicitaxistas work in the area, carrying passengers primarily between the Transmilenio station and the San Andresitos shops as far as a dozen blocks west.
Reduce pollution - ban the bicitaxis!

The bicitaxis don't pollute or make noise, Armando points out, and they can often zig zag their way through traffic. He acknowledges that in an accident a bicitaxi is more vulnerable than a car, but points out a bicitaxi can often leave its passenger on their doorstep, protecting them from street crime.

And, they charge much less than a polluting taxi - just 1,000 pesos to carry someone 12 blocks. And, they do something regular taxis don't - they carry together people who arrive separately, meaning less expensive and more efficient transport for everyone.

Armando blames authorities' resistance to legalizing the bicitaxis on the drivers of regular, polluting taxis. But he says the bicitaxistas are organizing and lobbying politicians. They've even blocked the nearby Transmilenio line to get attention.

"We keep on growing," he says of their numbers.

But the city's close-minded policies, controlled by vested interests, are blind to the bicitaxis' advantages.

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours 
Overwhelmed by traffic jams? Ban the bicitaxis!