martes, 27 de diciembre de 2011

Medellin's Public Bicycles Roll Forward

EnCicla riders ready to roll. (Photo: Medellin Transit Dep't)
While Bogotá's 'public bicycles' gather dust somewhere, Medellin is expanding its own system.

Bogotá would appear to lend itself more to public bicycles: it's a big, flat, dense city with a reputation as a cycling pioneer - and lots of traffic jams. But Medellin has been rolling forward with its program, called EnCicla, while Bogotá's is parked.

Jesus David Acero, the program's administrator and an official with Medellin's transit office, said Medellin's program has succeeded thanks to careful groundwork and planning -and most of all support from municipal and regional officials.

Medellin had cycling experts design its system, Acero said, and used specially-designed bicycles, together with software to manage the system.

Medellin's pre-designed bicycles.
(Photo: Medellin Transit Dep't)
In contrast, Acero says, Bogotá employed ordinary bicycles and neither carefully planned its pilot public bicycles project, nor has produced a thorough analysis of its results.

Still, Bogotá's public bike test program, called BiciBog, was quite well received and got good use - at least in its north Bogotá station. The south Bogotá trial received less demand, perhaps because many of the residents in the lower-income area have their own bicycles, as well as because of competition there from bicitaxis.

But Bogotá officials haven't indicated when or whether they'll continue the system. Acero says, however, that officials from the administration of incoming leftist Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro have indicated interest in creating a public bike program here.

Meanwhile, Medellin's public bike program is still technically in its pilot stage, but has been extended until March of 2012 and expanded from being available to only the students of two universities to the public in general. Not one of the bikes, which are equipped with GPS trackers, has been stolen.

Currently, the program has 145 bicycles, 105 of which are in the city and 40 in a rural park area and 11 parking stations. Users pay nothing and get to use the bikes for one hour at a time. Those who go over the limit lose borrowing privileges for three days.

Bogotá's public bicycles in action. They weren't designed for shared use, however. And they're now collecting dust. (
How much more the program can expand, Acero says, will depend on how much support they get from politicians and businesses. During 2011, the city funded the program with one (American) billion pesos, but Acer's hoping to get five times that much for 2012. Users have indicated a willingness to pay for the service, but only about 1,000 pesos per ride, so the program is seeking business sponsors.

The Medellin government "will have a hard time not expanding the public bikes program," Acero says, "because it's been very well accepted."

But Acero expresses lots of frustration about Bogotá's lack of progress. In fact, at this writing the folks in charge of BiciBog have yet to deliver their final report, which has been postponed at least once.

EnCicla's Facebook Page.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

La Ciclovia is Good Business!

Ciclovia-type events' economic benefits far outweigh their costs. 
Bogotá's fun, healthful Ciclovia is sometimes described as 'the world's longest street party.'

But it also gets criticized as a frivolous luxury which should be restricted to reduce inconveniences for cars. A few years ago, a congressman tried and failed to cut back La Ciclovia's ending time to noon from 2 p.m. for just that reason.

Kids ride new bikes on Bogotá's Ciclovia. 
After all, everybody knows that automobile drivers are doing something important, while joggers, skaters and bicyclists are wasting time which could be better spent burning fossil fuels.

But now a study published in the Journal of Urban Health finds that Ciclovias, which were pioneered by Bogotá, are good for the economy, too.

The researchers looked at four Ciclovia-type events: in Bogotá and Medellin; Guadalajara, Mexico and San Francisco, California.

The researchers tried to evaluate to what extent the Ciclovía events increased participants' physical activity and also calculated the events' costs. Bogotá's Ciclovia came out first on all points. Firstly, it's the cheapest per-capita of all of the events, at only U.S. $6.00 per participant per year, compared to $6.5 for Guadalajara, $23.4 for Medellin and $70.5 for San Francisco. That's likely because of the Bogotá Ciclovia's great number of participants and greater frequency than the events in other cities. What's more, the Bogotá Ciclovia also produced more savings per peso or dollar invested than the other Ciclovias, all of which were 'profitable,' according to the study. Bogotá's Ciclovía returned between $3.23 and $4.26 for each dollar invested, Medellin's $1.83, Guadalajara's $1.02 to $1.23 and  San Francisco's $2.32.

Doing aerobics in the Recrovia, part of the Ciclovia. 
The 'profits' include only saved medical costs, and not the healthier people's greater productivity at work, which must be substantial.

The return on investment is lots bigger than that produced by a gymnasium or a swimming pool because the infrastructure - roads and parks - is already built.

Of course, La Ciclovía's real value is in the improved quality of life it produces. But cold economic numbers like these justify La Ciclovia for businessmen who are addicted to their cars, or even sell cars.

Comparative weekly costs of various physical activity programs. Bogotá's Ciclovia is the furthest left.
Thanks to this 'silly and inconvenient' Ciclovia event, their employees are happier, more productive, miss fewer days of work and have lower health care costs.

Now, if only Bogotá would improve cycling conditions during the other six days of the week!

See also: Study: Health benefits outweigh costs of ciclovia events

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

lunes, 12 de diciembre de 2011

Chevy's Battle Against the Bike!

'Now, I ride a bicycle, but...With ChevyPlan I'll have my new Chevrolet'
Chevrolet has published this ad in Bogotá's El Espectador newspaper and Semana magazine, and likely other publications, inviting people to give up their bicycles for cars (Chevys, of course).

Chevy's plan for Bogota - even more traffic jams?
Naturally, car companies want to sell cars, even tho it's plain to anybody with eyes that automobiles are killing this city, with worsening noise, air pollution, sedentarism and traffic jams.

Of course, it's too much to expect the huge automobile industry to stop advertising. Still, it's particularly ugly to see them urging people to give up a healthy, efficient form of transit for a destructive one.

In response, Claudio Olivares Medina created this BicPlan on his Urban Cycling blog:

"Now I drive a car, but...a bicycle is fast, you have a good time and you laugh at the traffic congestion - and don't pay.

"Plan with intelligence. Mobilize yourself without stress, without debts and without Chevrolet."

Now, if only cycling had the auto industry's advertising budget!

One day, hoefully, cars and car advertising will be seen as what they are - as destructive as tobacco and smoking - and equally restricted.

Drive your life! With Nissan. In January, many thousands of additional cars will clog Bogotá's streets. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the...Bike Rack

A bicycling family visits Bogotá's Central Cemetery. 
The powers that be do respond - at least sometimes. All it took was a letter to the administration of Bogotá's Central Cemetery to get a much-needed bicycle parking rack installed in the main entrance. More than a year ago, the cemetery installed a rack at the rear entrance - also after Bogotá Bike Tours's request - but that side is far from many of the most important tombs.

Now, not only tourists, but, more importantly, local residents, can safely and conveniently visited loved ones' tombs by bicycle.

The cemetery has long had a parking lot for cars. So, the very fact that we had to request a bike rack shows the mentality that 'automobile parking is a right, while bicycle parking is a privilege' - even tho the law requires such places to offer bicycle parking.

Previously, visitors had to leave their bikes outside the gate - despite the ample space inside. Recently,   while we were visiting the cemetery, thieves stole one of Bogotá Bike Tours' bikes.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

lunes, 14 de noviembre de 2011

And Victory Goes to the Fittest

There they go! A cyclist races a TransMilenio bus in Bogotá.
The University of the Andes sponsored the second-annual 'Transit Modalities Race' Friday, and once again the winner is: The bicycle!

On Jimenez Ave., private cars block each other,
TM buses and even a cyclist. 
The race consisted of 12 commuters, three each in private cars, TransMilenio buses, regular buses and on bicycles, who left at 8 a.m. from three different spots around Bogotá and commuted to the Andes University, in La Candelaria.

The cyclists won far and away, averaging 21.5 kilometers per hour - leaving them time for a coffee and a long shower before the private cars arrived, having averaged only 15.5 KPH, barely ahead of the TransMilenio at 15.3 KPH. The regular bus averaged only 13.4 KPH. The cyclists in fact won all three races.

I was surprised, however, that the private car drivers beat the TM buses - albeit only by a hair. But the TM's time was really hurt by a last-place showing in one of the routes, from north Bogota, where it lost even to the regular bus. So I wonder whether that TM route experienced some extraordinary delay, such as an accident or a completely perverse traffic jam - most likely caused by private cars.

No way to travel: cars wait and wait in central Bogota. 
A Bogotá Cicloruta. 

On the other hand, the fact that the private cars were slower on all three routes than bicycles, and in one also lost to both the TM and the regular bus, underlines the insanity of investing millions of pesos in big, polluting machines which clog the roads and often carry only one or two people.

The bicycles' victory is particularly meaningful right now because both Bogotá and Medellin are carrying out pilot public bicycle projects. The news reports I've seen about the Medellin program have been positive, while those about Bogotá's, named BiciBog, have been mixed. Some transit experts opine that Bogotá's public bikes aren't comfortably designed or very durable and are too big for many Bogotanos, and that the stations aren't well located. Observers are also asking about where some of planning money went. (See, for example, Carlos Pardo's blog, where he also asks why the bikes are only for people over age 16, and why the instructions appear to restrict use to Ciclorutas - which would eliminate many destinations.)

BiciBog bikes. (Photo: El Espectador)
Planners have responded that these bikes are only for testing purposes, and that when the real system starts, it'll use especially-designed bikes. And that the same goes for the system of bicycle stations.

Yet, despite all of this, the bikes, which are free, appear to be receiving lots of use. This is encouraging. But creating a city-wide system will mean dealing with lots of problems, including crime and mechanical difficulties, Bogotá's helmet law and pollution and chaotic traffic, which make cycling unpleasant and even dangerous for your health.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

domingo, 6 de noviembre de 2011

Is Biking in Bogotá Bad for You?

Don't breathe deep: Cyclists on car-clogged Carrera 10.
Smokin' - a belching Bogotá bus. 
I've seen a spate of articles recently celebrating the benefits of bicycling. For example, there's 'Secret to a long, healthy life: Bike to the store' on the U.S.'s National Public Radio, or this one about a study finding that replacing driving with cycling would save billions of dollars in fuel and car expenses, slash health expenses and improve air quality.

But is it true here in Bogota?

Cyclists on a Cicloruta on Calle 13.
A recent study by professors at the National University found that cyclists who used Ciclorutas along busy avenues suffered significantly more respiratory problems than those who used Ciclorutas exposed to less pollution. The strange thing about the study is that this doesn't mean only that Cicloruta users are at risk, but that all users of these avenues are, including the people in vehicles trapped in traffic jams.

Of course, this doesn't change cycling's great benefits for the city, in less pollution, traffic congestion and fuel consumption. And bicycling still reduces obesity and improves health in many ways, despite the pollution.

But I was disappointed by some of the comments other readers had left on the story, which criticized the academics for doing the study and the media for disseminating it 'Because it would discourage people from bicycling.'

A delivery cyclist wears a protective face mask. 
That might be true. But, even if everybody stops cycling, the pollution will continue sickening Bogotanos in their homes, cars, buses and walking along streets. And, unless authorities take strong measures, it'll just get worse and worse and worse as more cars flood into the city, creating more congestion and the existing cars, buses and trucks age.

The solutions aren't complicated, altho they might be difficult to implement:

Newly-elected mayor needs to follow thru on his promise to create a London-style congestion charge for private vehicles. That would reduce congestion and pollution and provide more money for public transit.

A cyclist trapped by cars on Jimenez Ave. 
The city needs to go ahead with implementation of the Integrated System of Public Transit, the SITP, which would impose some order on the private buses and phase out thousands of the oldest, and presumably the dirtiest, buses.

But, first and foremost, city officials need to enforce the law. EcoPetrol has promised to clean up Bogotá's gasoline and diesel fuels to international standards and officials must hold the company to its word. And EcoPetrol can afford to provide clean fuel for Colombia's capital city - the company earned record profits last year. Even more fundamentally, the city needs to enforce air pollution laws on vehicles and factories. Observation of many of Bogotá's cars, trucks and buses, some of which apparently run on coal, makes it obvious that pollution laws are a dead letter.

'Location of Ciclorutas can be damaging to health' - U.N. News Agency

Check out this video, in Spanish, denouncing pollution in Bogotá. (Video sobre contaminacion en Bogotá.)

sábado, 5 de noviembre de 2011

Reinventing the bike

A bike converted to electricity by La Salle University students. 
La Salle University students have improved the bicycle! This group invented a system to modify a standard bike to battery power.

The battery wheel can be purchased by itself, altho it's not cheap: 800,000 pesos.

These two students invented a detachable bicycle basket, which converts into a wheeled cart for heavy loads.

It detaches....
And rolls along! 

By Mike Ceaser of Bogota Bike Tours

viernes, 28 de octubre de 2011

November's La Bicicletada

Cyclists ready to go!
For the last two years, students from Bogotá's Universidad Central have been organizing these monthly bicicletadas around various parts of central Bogotá. Their purpose is to have fun, see the city and encourage bicycle use, especially bicycle commuting. The last-Friday-of-the-month rides are open to students from all universities. The organizers told me they've motivated at least a few students to dust off their two-wheelers and head to school on them. Still, only a few dozen Central University students bike to school.

Today's ride, on bikes from Bogotá Bike Tours, visited the National Museum, Independence Park and the National Library.

On a nice bike lane, or Cicloruta. 
Entering the National Museum

Outside the National Museum

In Independence Park. 

In Independence Park's information kiosk.

In front of the art-deco National Library of Colombia

Near the National Library.

A talk inside the National Library

Cycling back to the Central University, in the Las Aguas neighborhood. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Francisco Andres Buitrago Builds Bikes

Francisco Andres Buitrago designs these 'egronomic' bicycles. I tried them, and they are comfortable, altho they do require a bit of getting used to. The steering dynamics are very different from the bikes I'm used to. 

Buitrago's bicycles can be fitted with different-sized wheels and forks of various lengths. I was concerned, however, about how well the long handlebars would withstand the stresses of use. But Buitrago says his bike has held up for years of daily use. 

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

miércoles, 5 de octubre de 2011

Bicycle Week Winds Up With a Mural

(Photos by Marriana Guhl)
Bogotá's Bicycle Week wound up last Sunday with the painting of a bicycle mural on 67th Street, just off of 7th Ave. (The supplies were payed for by Bogotá Bike Tours, which offers graffiti tours, and which might possibly make this mural part of our bike tours.) The grafiteros volunteered their time and skills.

The wall beforehand. 

The result, with the bike model. 

This mural, on Carrera 3 near Jorge Tadeo Univ., says 'I'm exercising thanks to the Nule.'* Unfortunately, I didn't see many bikes on this congested avenue. (El Toma Corriente makes electric and normal bicycles.)  
*The Nule clan had the initial contract for building the express bus line on Calle 26, but mismanaged it and allegedly pocketed public money. They are now in prison, as is Mayor Samuel Moreno, who issued the contract. 

sábado, 1 de octubre de 2011

Bici Polo in the Parque Nacional

Today in Bogotá's National Park, as part of Bicycle Week, these guys (and a few girls) played bicycle polo. Bike polo really is a real sport, with rules, a website and everything, altho it appears that it's more commonly played on grass than concrete. And, after just a little while watching, it seemed clear to me that it's much more deserving of Olympic status than are somnorific activities like golf and baseball.

Most players used fixed-gear bikes, which allow for more manueverability.

Congratulating after a goal! 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours