lunes, 27 de agosto de 2012

Is a Bicycle With a Motor Still a Bicycle?

Motorized bicycles, called ciclomotores, for sale in central Bogotá.
They're noisy, highly polluting, fast and dangerous - just about everything a bicycle is not. So, can they be called bicycles?

Take a bike, add a motor, and you get a motorbike.
The proliferation of bicycles equipped with 50-cc motors, called ciclomotores, is causing controversy here, and for good reason. These light motorbikes cause lots of pollution, since their loud and dirty two-stroke engines have no emission controls. They're also faster and heavier than normal bikes. And they're just plain unpleasant to be around, especially when you're stuck behind one choking on its fumes.

But their users insist on calling them bicycles, and taking advantage of the privileges of using a bicycle, such as riding in bike lanes, in the National University, and sometimes even on La Ciclovia.

Today, as salesman told me that these ciclomotores start at 850,000 pesos (about $500), or that he could equip my own bike with a motor for 550,000 pesos. They can do 40 kilometers per hour and cover 90 kms on their half-gallon gas tank. There were selling "quite well," he said happily, and gave me his card.

A motorized bicycle on the campus of the National University,
where this guy wouldn't have been able to enter on a
regular motorcycle.
Perhaps these vehicles can play a role in the city, at least for people who can't pedal a bike for some reason. But they should be equipped with basic emissions and noise controls. And, most of all, they should be with other motorized vehicles, since that's what they are.

These things violate all of bicycling's positives: they're dirty, noisy and generally unpleasant and don't do their riders' health any good, since I've almost never seen anybody pedal one. But, they're much cheaper than regular motorcycles and battery-powered bicycles.

A proud motorized bicycle rider.
He zoomed away with a trail of fumes.
City officials say that these things fall into a legal vaccuum, since the laws covering motorcycles are written to apply to vehicles with machines larger than 50 ccs. That's why they can't be legally excluded from bike lanes, sidewalks, or La Ciclovia, which is supposed to be all about health and exercise. Fortunately, however, I have seen the Ciclovia's 'guardianes' applying good sense by telling these motorized monsters to either shut off their motors or leave La Ciclovia. Naturally, adverse as they are to pedaling, they leave La Ciclovia.

Ironically, Bogotá has recently tried to phase out two-stroke engines, which are highly polluting. Unfortunately, the city backed off of this policy in the face of protests by motorcyclists, and now these ciclomotores are making the problem worse.

Do I look like a bicyclist?
Safety's another issue. Imagine pedaling along in a bike lane, feeling protected from vehicle traffic, only to have a motorized bicycle roar past you at 40 kmh and leave you gasping its fumes?

Adding insult to injury, I'm worried that these monsters will discourage riders of real bikes, by making life in Bogotá's bike lanes dangerous and unpleasant.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

sábado, 25 de agosto de 2012

A Constituency for Cycling?

But will bike lanes
change the city?
A meeting last night at the Institute of Urban Development (IDU) included more promises of new Ciclorutas - this time along El Parkway (in Teusaquillo), Ave. Carrera 50 and by Mundo Aventura.

But while those bike lanes would bring positive - if only incremental - improvements for cyclists, probably the most notable thing about the meeting was the turnout: Several dozen people, on a Friday evening for a topic that's more technical than sexy.

Bike lanes ignored and blocked.
Sure, that's nothing compared to the thousands who turn out for those REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS like football team rallies, Madonna concerts and protests against the free trade agreement. But, for a slideshow about planned bike lane routes, it's pretty good.

"Just a year or two ago, only four or five souls came to these meetings," observed Camilo Rey Ladino.

The crowd came close to filling the meeting room. 
The audience also seemed quite engaged, with frequent questions and comments, altho many of them less than positive about cycling conditions here. I and others commented about the constant invasions of bike lanes by homeless people, who find them convenient camping spots, and cars, which park on top of them with total impunity. What's the point, I ask, in building more bike lanes if they're not respected? Bogotá needs deep cultural shifts, not only among drivers and the homeless, but also police, who evidently don't see bike lanes as important enough to be defended. The city has 20 'Guardianes de las Ciclorutas,' but I've never seen one actually

Cycling activists outside the meeting show off
'One Less Car' bike stickers.
The three new bike lanes still have several hurdles to overcome, including feasability studies and financing. Along the Parkway, will residents protest the loss of parking spaces - even tho they are parking illegaly, in any case?

Another positive point was speaker Jesus Acero, who designed Medellin's public bicycle system as well as one for Bogotá which hasn't been implemented. Cyclists are fortunate to have such an enthusiastic advocate in city planning.

Acero said Medellin's public bike system is expanding, with the addition of 175 bikes (it has 145 now) and six more lending stations. As for Bogotá, "studies are advancing," Acero said. But, of course, we've heard that for years about public bikes here.

A scheme showing the
signals included with bike lanes.
Unfortunately, Bogotá's urbann planning establishment may still be wedded to motor transport, despite Mayor Gustavo Petro's verbal support of cycling. I noticed the decades-old photos on the meeting room's walls, which displayed wide avenues for cars, with no accomodations for cyclists, or even pedestrians in many cases.

Jesus Acero speaking. 
Acero said the city is also looking at building 23 bike parking lots and three bike bridges. Acero said that Bogotá residents make 450,000 trips per day by bicycle (a statistic which strikes me as inflated in a city of 9 million)

"Obviously, there's much greater need," for bicycle infrastructure, he said.

"We'll see whether they actually do it," observed Andres Felipe Vergara. "There's a big gulf between words and actions."

No bike lanes here: A decades-old photo of an urban avenue on the IDU meeting room's walls. Many Bogotá avenues haven't changed much. 
But there's also much more need for changing Bogotá's transit culture. As long as motor vehicles pump fumes in cyclists' faces with impunity and take for granted that the motor vehicle has all the rights all the time, many people will not dare to pedal Bogotá's streets - bike lanes or no bike lanes.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

The kind of bike lane we don't need more of, near San Victorino Plaza. 
A good bike lane, near Paloquemao Market. 
A bicyclist on the Parkway, which may get a bike lane, but perhaps needs one less than other avenues. 

martes, 7 de agosto de 2012

The Return of the 26th Street Ciclovia

Cyclists on the just-reopened 26th St. Ciclovia. Behind them is a TransMilenio bus. 
The 26th St. corridor, historically one of the most important sections of Bogotá's famed Ciclovia, reopened today after being closed for years because of TransMilenio expansion work which is years behind schedule.

Beyond the return of this major Ciclovia section, the restoration of the 10-kilometer 26th St. route also signals the city's commitment to at least some aspects of cycling. It also bodes positively for the survival of the 7th Ave. Ciclovia, its most important section - whenever the city finally builds efficient public transit there.

Transit officials have worried that the TransMilenio buses could endanger nearby cyclists by the air turbulence they generate. But, apparently officialdom has reconsidered the risk and decided that cyclists and TransMilenio can coexist. Nevertheless, any danger could be more of a factor on Seventh Ave., since it's much narrower. (The city's latest plan is to build light rail on Seventh, but nothing's certain.)

A meter-wide barrier is intended to prevent cyclists from nearing the TransMilenio buses.
On the other hand, the 26th St. Cicloruta, or bike lane, which was built into the new TransMilenio line, has received lots of criticism. Check out this humorous video, which highlights the lane's few of entry and exit points.

Also, on its eastern end, the bike lane separates from 26th St. and follows its old route, passing thru the grimy Santa Fe neighborhood and the red light district to connect to Seventh Ave. Unfortunately, fear of crime will discourage some cyclists from using this route. It's also made difficult by neglect and the general sad state of the Cicloruta. Take, for example, this homeless scavenger who blocks the Cicloruta with his cart most every day. Police, obviously, give protecting Ciclorutas little importance.

A bike lane blocked by a scavenger's cart in the Santa Fe neighborhood. If he was blocking cars, you can bet there'd be protests. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours