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

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