jueves, 8 de noviembre de 2012

Back When Bicycling Was Bad: Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Cycling

Bogotá's finest confiscate law-breaking bicyclesin 1955 (Photo: El Espectador)
Bogotá bicyclists, including yours truly, love to complain: about the chaotic, inconsiderate drivers who behave like bicycles don't exist; about the bicycle lanes in bad shape or useless; about the vehicles which belch plumes of smoke into our faces; and so on and so on.

But I felt better - or, at least, less bad - after reading a decades-old story by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez published recently in El Espectador about bicycles' travails and crimes in Bogotá.

The story, 'Cycling Fever in Bogotá,' was originally published in 1955, back when the future novelist was an up-and-coming newspaper reporter. (It was republished to honor the 30th anniversary of Marquez's Nobel Prize for Literature.)

Today, many cyclists complain about helmet laws. Back in Marquez's day, it seems, cyclists were required to have drivers' licenses and license plates. Consider this line - which I at first thot was satire - after Marquez describes 5-year-old children "throwing themselves amidst the automobiles on tricycles," Marquez goes on to observe that "Some of these bicycles don't have license plates, and the majority of their riders - including the children on tricycles - don't have drivers' licenses."

And get ready for another cycling offense: "In Oskar Park, in the Santa Fe neighborhood, a child without a driver's license rode a tricycle without a license plate down the middle of the street. The vehicle didn't belong to him - it had been rented by an agency for 30 cents for 15 minutes."

Even more shocking than unlicensed tricyclists, if that is possible, are the schoolchildren's neighborhood bicycle races, fed by the excitement of the annual Tour of Colombia. And, last but not least, many bicyclists violated the prohibition against cycling in the city center except by those with a special license.

In response to this criminal onslaught by unlicensed pedalers, including those terrible five-year-old tricyclists, the police spent a whole day doing nothing but punishing cyclists' irregularities, Márquez reports, and confiscated 300 bicycles.

That was then, this is now: Cyclists on Ave. Septima, where cars are prohibited from a 25-block section.
And that was only the beginning, writes Márquez. Municipal authorities planned new regulations to control the bicycle problem, in particular by enforcing the licensing laws.

For all that we complain, today at least city authorities have realized the bicycles are a solution, to be encouraged, rather than a problem (even if their actions don't always match their words). Even tho the bike lanes, called Ciclorutas, leave a lot to be desired, at least we have them. And, while bicycles were mostly banned from downtown in Marquez's time, today a chunk of Ave. Septima is pedestrianized during the day.

So, while we cyclists need to continue demanding our rights and improved conditions, it's also worthwhile reflecting on how far we've come.

And get ready for another cycling offense: "In Oskar Park, in the Santa Fe neighborhood, a child without a driver's license rode a tricycle without a license plate down the middle of the street. The vehicle didn't belong to him - it had been rented by an agency for 30 cents for 15 minutes."

Even more shocking than unlicensed tricyclists, if that is possible, are the schoolchildren's neighborhood bicycle races, fed by the excitement of the annual Tour of Colombia. And, last but not least, many bicyclists violated the prohibition against cycling in the city center except by those with a special license.

In response to this criminal onslaught by unlicensed pedalers, including those terrible five-year-old tricyclists, the police spent a whole day doing nothing but punishing cyclists' irregularities, Márquez reports, and confiscated 300 bicycles.

And that was only the beginning, writes Márquez. Municipal authorities planned new regulations to control the bicycle problem, in particular by enforcing the licensing laws.

For all that we complain, today at least city authorities have realized the bicycles are a solution, to be encouraged, rather than a problem (even if their actions don't always match their words). Even tho the bike lanes, called Ciclorutas, leave a lot to be desired, at least we have them. And, while bicycles were mostly banned from downtown in Marquez's time, today a chunk of Ave. Septima is pedestrianized during the day.

So, while we cyclists need to continue demanding our rights and improved conditions, it's also worthwhile reflecting on how far we've come.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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