martes, 29 de enero de 2013

The Man Who Helped Bring La Ciclovía to Bogotá

Gonzalo Medina displays a poster about La Ciclovia. 
In 1982, Gonzalo Medina visited Rio de Janeiro and was struck by how the city shut a shoreline avenue to car traffic each Sunday for pedestrians and bicyclists.

When Medina, then an official with Bogotá's transit department, returned home, he convinced city officials to try the same experiment on the Circunvular, the avenue running along the city's Eastern Hills. But after police complained that the closed road blocked access to a hospital, the new experiment called La Ciclovia was shifted to Ave. Septima.

One of Medina's goals even back then was to change the bicycle's image.

"Riding a bike was not only in bad taste," he said, but cyclists were seen "as people who couldn't afford a Renault."

La Ciclovia way back when. 
Over the following years, La Ciclovia won supporters and confronted opponents, Medina says, including some who wanted to restrict or even eliminate the institution in order to open roads for cars. La Ciclovia overcame its most recent threat several years ago, when a senator introduced a law closing La Ciclovia two hours earlier. The proposal met widespread opposition, including from cyclists and the city's sitting and previous mayors, and the proposal died. Over the years, La Ciclovia has also lost some segments, usually to make way for infrastructure projects.

A scene on La Ciclovía today. 
The Ciclovía concept wasn't born with Medina's trip to Rio. In the early- and mid-1970s a student initiative called the 'mitin de la bicicleta' created a Ciclovia on Avenidas Septima and 13. The idea was formalized by a 1976 decree, but it's not clear to me whether or not it lasted.

Participants in a mass aerobics class, called La Recrovia. 
Since its beginnings La Ciclovia has extended to hundreds of kilometers, added cycling courses and mass aerobics practices called La Recrovia.

The idea has also expanded across Latin America and into the United States, altho Colombia's version is still the largest and most frequent. There's even an International Network of Ciclovias organization to promote the concept. La Ciclovia, along with the TransMilenio express bus network and the city's bike lane network, once gave Bogotá a reputation for progressiveness and urban ingenuity, altho that image has since faded.

Medina says the biggest improvement to La Ciclovia over the years was Mayor Enrique Peñalosa's addition of the annual Ciclovia Nocturna, or night-time Ciclovia.

But the Ciclovia Nocturna happens only once a year, and part of its route is so packed with pedestrians that you can't ride a bike.

More important, it seems to me, is the way that La Ciclovia's become an essential Bogotá institution.

Various studies have found that the Ciclovia concept benefits not only participants' health, but also the economy, by saving on medical expenses.

"I'm proud," Medina says of his work. "It was an important contribution."

In Havana, Cuba, where Medina's wife works for the Colombian embassy, and where he says biking is risky, he continues pushing for better cycling conditions.

But to get more people onto bicycles, Medina believes that bikes mustn't be seen any longer as the 'poor man's vehicle.' In Bogotá, most bicycle commuters are still low income people who ride bikes to save on bus fare. In Colombia's class-conscious culture, the middle class and wealthy want to be seen in cars - even if that means spending hours trapped in traffic jams.

"There should be executives on bikes, so that the bike has status," Medina says.

Medina also advocates more space for pedestrians and cyclists, including car-free streets in the historical center.

Those measures would help Bogotá fulfill more of La Ciclovia's potential - to get Bogotanos to use their bikes not only on Sundays, but every day.

See some videos of Mr. Medina commenting, in Spanish, here, here, here and here.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

martes, 1 de enero de 2013

Bogotá's Missing Bike Lane - and Missing Bike Planning

 Bicyclists share the road with cars on Carrera 60, which leads to Parque Simon Bolivar.

Carrera 60 has plenty of room for adding a bike lane.
Simon Bolivar Park is Bogotá's biggest green area and very possibly the city's most popular destination for cyclists.

The 26th Street Cicloruta is the city's longest, newest and undoubtedly its most expensive bike lane.

But, altho 26th St. passes within a kilometer of the park, Carrera 60, which connects the two, lacks a bike lane - altho it has ample space to build one.

Why? You'll have to ask the geniuses at City Hall who design these things.
A map of Simon Bolivar Park and some nearby bike lanes.
Sure, you can get to Simon Bolivar Park by bike. One of the city's nicest bike lanes, called Ciclorutas, connects it to the National University along Calle 53 - which begs the question even more strongly why the 26th St. bike lane isn't connected to the park.

And, Carrera 60 connects to Calle 26, with its newly-rebuilt
lane for bikes.
My hunch is that this is the result of the tangle of city entities - parks, transit, the Institute for Urban Development and others, all sticking their fingers into bike lanes planning. And, at least in the past, they did so without the benefit of input from cyclists (altho that may finally be changing). 

Racks for dozens of bicycles in Renacimiento Park,
but I've never seen more than a few bikes here.
Who decided that a 100 cyclists would all want to park
together in this small public park? 
For an even more dramatic example of zany cycle planning, check out this photo of these dozens - or are they hundreds? - of vacant bike parking racks in Renacimiento Park. I took the photo on the New Year's Day holiday while Ciclovia was happening on 26th St., just yards away. I've never seen more than two or three bicycles in this sea of racks (and the park has a second, albeit smaller, equally unused bike rack at its other entrance).

Meanwhile, many important destinations, such as government buildings, banks, supermarkets and many TransMilenio bus stations have no bike parking at all.

Half of Calle 60 does get shut to cars during La Ciclovia, on Sundays and holidays.
A boy bicycles in Simon Bolivar Park. 

A girl bicycles in Simon Bolivar Park. Would she risk sharing a street with cars?
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours