viernes, 28 de septiembre de 2012

Public Bike Prototypes at the National University

Discussing a yellow bike prototype.
Today, National University students exhibited prototypes of bikes designed for Bogotá's perpetually-promised-but-never-realized public bicycles program.

Bogotá officials' latest public bikes promise is to create the system next year - way behind Medellin, which is expanding its own public bikes program.

The students deserve plaudits for the bike designs, altho not all struck me as appropriate to be used as public bikes. A public bike should be inexpensive and sturdy, since many people aren't gentle with borrowed bikes. In a city with a theft problem, the bike should not be particularly enticing, and parts like wheels and chainrings should be unique, so that they can't be stolen for use on other bikes.
This model is designed to have a dynamo in its front wheel and
internal gears in back - too sophisticated and expensive
for a public bike. 

Most fundamentally, tho, Bogotá needs to make itself more bike friendly and give cycling real status if any public bikes program is actually to be used. The National University's own public bikes program, called BicirrUN, was shut down after many bikes were damaged or stolen. (Today, some students told me they hope to bring bicirrUN back.) Unfortunately, as long as streets are chaotic, as long as cyclists must swallow vehicle exhaust, as long as parked cars and homeless scavengers routinely block bicycle lanes, only a brave few will venture out on two wheels - as is the situation now.

The National University, whose walls are emblazoned with murals of leftist revolutionaries, is best known for protests and radical politics. But perhaps now it will lead a transit revolution.

Repairing a flat. Public bikes must be tough, because borrowers don't want or know how to make repairs. 

These simple, sturdy yellow bikes look like they could do the job.
Fenders are useful for Bogotá's frequent rains: but will anybody borrow bikes in the rain in the first place?

And the reality on the road for Bogotá cyclists:
But the reality for cyclists: a homeless squatter squats in this bike lane. 

And this man decided the bike lane, and sidewalk, were a convenient place to park his car. 

Bogotá's only relatively succesful public bikes experiment has been on the 20-block stretch of Ave. Septima which is closed to cars. 

Bikes are lent for free, but can only be used on this 20-block stretch of street. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

martes, 11 de septiembre de 2012

To the Nacho by Bike

Learning to patch bike tubes at the National University.
More and more students seem to be cycling to the National University's huge Bogotá campus, but they're still a small minority of the 40,000 who study here. A group of students concerned about the environment and sustainable transport are trying to change that by teaching students how to repair bikes and training them in cycling skills.

The group, who are studying a variety of majors, holds workshops one afternoon most weeks and also arranges monthly group rides.

The project, which started last semester, has attracted about 15 students to each workshop and up to 25 for the monthly rides, said Tomás Suarez, an anthropology student who is one of the organizers.

At the workshop this afternoon a group of students learned how to fix flats, which is a particularly useful skill to have in Bogotá, where most of the bike shops are bunched onto just a few streets. Previous workshops have covered general bicycle maintenance, the best routes for bike commuting and cycling's health and environmental advantages.

The project at Colombia's largest university is one of several initiatives at Bogotá's private and public universities, which seem to be taking the lead in actively promoting two-wheeled transit in the city. For example, groups of students and teachers at the private Jorge Tadeo University, Central University and Los Andes University have promoted cycle commuting and organized group rides to campus.

'A la Nacho en Bici.'
But the National University, fondly known as La Nacho, undoubtedly has the largest number of cyclists, if only for economic reasons. Most public university students are poor or middle class and often can't afford cars or even bus fares.

Suarez says he's noticed more bicycles on the Nacho's campus.

"Today, something happened which hasn't happened to me for a long time," he said. "I couldn't find a place to park my bike because the rack was full."

There doesn't seem to be an accurate count of the number of people who ride bikes to the National University, altho it would be easy to make one just by posting observers with clipboards at the four entrances. A security guard at one of the entrances said that about 500 bikes enter there daily, suggesting a total of between 1,500 and 2,000, or 5% of the university's 40,000 students.

But while there usually are enough of spots to park bikes, Suarez would like to see better security. Even tho guards at the university entrances check bikes onto and off of campus, there have been cases of thefts. (That's not hard to believe, since someone actually stole an adult, pure-bred bull from the university's ag department last week.) Suarez also hopes to see a return of the university's shared bikes program, which was ended after many of the bikes got damaged or stolen. Other initiatives, it seems to me, could include a prohibition of motorized bicycles on campus and the installation of a repair shop on campus.

Perhaps the monthly rides could also develop into a Bogotá Critical Mass demonstration. After all, if La Nacho is known for anything, it's protests and activism. Several years ago, a woman from California tried to organize a critical mass ride at the Nacho, but the idea died after she returned to the States.

A la Nacho en Bici is on Facebook here.

A bike parking rack gets good use evening in the evening.

The university's central plaza, named after Che Guevara. the very leftist National University is better known for loud protests and colorful leftist graffiti. 

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

sábado, 1 de septiembre de 2012

Public Bikes for Bogotá II?

A cyclist squeezed by cars on Carrera 10.
How many non-cyclists will dare to pedal Bogotá's streets?
Bogotá's city government has, once again, promised to create a public bicycles system, this time before the end of next year.

Bogotá already made a trial run on two sites, which seemed to find real demand. But the trial was halted, while Medellin has launched its system and is expanding it.

A cyclis in the National University. A public bicycles
program here was ended after many bikes
were stolen and damaged. 
But, before setting up such a system, the city needs to look hard at issues such as crime, the wealther, how to charge and the city's cycling conditions. The only sustained shared bikes program tried in Bogotá was in the National University's campus. But even tho the campus is a closed area with guards at entrances and exits, the university ended the program after several years because many of the bikes were damaged or stolen. On campus, users simply picked up a bike to use and dropped it off at their destination.

One key difference with a municipal system, presumably, is that users will be identified and responsible for returning bikes in good condtion.

City employees lend bikes on Seventh Ave.
But the free program only covers a six-block stretch. 
Still, look at Bogotá's crime, chaotic streets and often-useless bike lanes, not to mention its hills and rain, and I have to wonder about this system's potential. A more mundane concern is the low rate of credit card/bank account use among Bogotanos, which will complicate charging systems.

If the system is tried and works, then great. It'll boost cycling, improve the city's chaotic transit, get people exercising and contribute to the city's image. Hopefully it'll also spur officialdom to improve conditions for all cyclists and drivers to give cyclists some respect. But if it fails, it'll be a black eye for cycling and mean more opposition to all cycling initiatives.

Somewhere on this sidewalk, probably underneath the cars, is a bike lane. 
A bike lane with a post in it. 
A homeless person found this bike lane to be a good camping spot. If he were blocking cars, the cops would move him. 
A bicyclist wears a facemask to protect himself from pollution.
A nice bike lane near the National Univesity. If they were only all like this one. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours