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

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