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.)

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