lunes, 23 de mayo de 2011

Andrés the Mushroom Pedaler

Andrés may be the most ubiquitous and dedicated cyclists to be seen in central Bogotá. Six days a week, you'll see him pedaling the city delivering fresh mushrooms to stores, restaurants and even universities.

For 15 years, Andrés, 47, has been delivering the mushrooms which his brother grows on a farm in Chia, to Bogotá's north. He picks the mushrooms up in the market of Paloquemao and pedals 50 kilometers per day, he guesstimates, from around 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m., rain or shine, in the heat and cold, rain or shine, winding his way thru the city's horrendous traffic jams.

Bogotá has lots of other bicycle deliverers, who carry potatoes, cheese, pizzas and letters. But I don't think any other covers as much ground carrying as much weight as Andrés does. I see him in La Candelaria, around the National University, and I'm sure he also goes to lots of places I don't. A days delivering requires several trips, since he can only carry about half of the 100 kilograms he delivers every day in one load.

There's nothing fancy about the guy, on his old, beat-up bike and even more worn clothes. But he's usually smiling and cheerful, even in Bogotá's frequent downpours.

Even when he's sick, Andrés still delivers - "I can't lose my customers," he explains. 

And Andrés has competition: Zeta mushrooms, which delivers by truck.

But Andrés prefers the agility and freedom he has on his bike. "I can stop wherever I want, I can go thru traffic, I don't get stuck in traffic jams."

Andrés' mushrooms are also cheaper and he gives more personalized service. Sometimes, a restaurant calls him at 7 or 8 p.m., desperate for mushrooms - and, if he can, Andrés delivers. 

He hasn't switched to a motorcycle, in part because he likes the ecological aspect of cycling. And biking keeps him in shape.

"I was always thin," he observes, "but now I'm thinner."

Andrés also likes the independence. He's got a college degree in business administration and worked for years managing a relative's printing business. But he's happier now, because "I like the freedom."

And, with the mushroom delivery business Andrés and his wife are raising three children.

However, bicycle delivery in Bogotá does have its hazards. Andrés has suffered falls, tho never a serious accident. And he's had two bicycles stolen.

"I came back and they weren't there," he recalls.

Still, he doesn't use a lock, altho he is thinking about buying one.

Andrés rides away, more rolling proof that bicycles are effective transport in Bogotá.

Call Andres at 320-846-8359 .

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

domingo, 22 de mayo de 2011

A Dubious Distinction for Bogotá's Ciclorutas

Award worthy? A 'bike lane' in central Bogotá. 
Bogotá's just received a 'best practice' honor from the Global Partners Innovation Exchange for its network of bicycle lanes.

But while Bogotá's bicycle lanes are an admirable and valuable accomplishment, the honor makes one ask: 'Have the awarders been reading the news over the past decade?'

A lonely bike lane in Bogotá's Teusaquillo neighborhood. (Of course, this was a Sunday.)
That's because, while Bogotá has spent recent years mostly neglecting its bike lane network, other cities in Latin American and around the world have been improving theirs.

Buenos Aires Mayor  Mauricio Macri pedaling his city.
Buenos Aires, for example, has been building a network which is to measure 196 kilometers and also offering subsidies to public employees who want to buy bikes.

Here's Buenos Aires' mayor cycling. I've never seen Bogotá's (now suspended) mayor on two wheels - perhaps because he's too busy getting involved in scandals.

Public bicycles in Mexico.
Mexico City, for its part, is setting up a public bicycles system, as has Buenos Aires, and creating bike lanes. Bogotá's own projected public bikes system has never gotten started.

Bogotá has accomplished lots for cycling, but nearly all of it is old news. Sections of its pioneering bike lane network are crumbling.

So, this award gives me a feeling of sadness for how little Bogotá's done for cycling recently.

This cyclist chose the street over a bike lane. 
The award also recognizes the cycle path network for reducing the production of global warming gases. However, only a few percent of Bogotá commuters use bicycles, and I bet most of them would still pedal without the bike lanes. Often, they have no choice because they can't afford bus fare.

Bogotá has lots of opportunities to reduce its greenhouse gas production (and conventional pollution), but they will require political will to stand up to political and business forces such as the bus companies and the auto industry. With the mayor suspended and possibly on his way to join his senator-brother in prison, nothing will be accomplished during this administration.

Aged buses on Carrera 10.
City governments have repeatedly promised to junk the city's old bus fleet - but done little. They're supposed to be eliminated whenever the Integrated Public Transit System (SITP) is introduced. Whenever that happens.

A lone cyclist on Jimenez Ave. 
Reducing pollution by phasing out the dirtiest buses and places effective restrictions on private car use would make cycling more pleasant and get lots more people on the road.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours