domingo, 10 de noviembre de 2013

Public Bikes in Bogotá¡? (Chap. 43)

Cyclists ride down Ave. Septima on lent municipal bikes, Bogotá's only public bikes program. 
Bogotá just announced that the city will finally, finally, create a real public bike program next year.

This is approximately the umpteenth time that various city officials have announced that public bikes are coming, with few results. They even tried a pilot program, which was fairly successful, but hasn't been followed up.

Pedaling down 26th St. amidst traffic.
How many Bogotanos will dare?
Public bikes are coming, tardily, to a city once seen as a trailblazer for cyclists, with its bike lane network and Sunday/holiday Ciclovia. Other Latin American capitals, including Buenos Aires, Santiago, Chile and Mexico City - not to mention Medellin - rolled out their public bikes months or years ago. (Bogotá's existing public bikes lending program is limited to 25 blocks of Ave. Septima north of Plaza Bolivar. Bogotá's other foray into bike lending, on the National University's campus, died a quiet death after bikes were damaged and stolen.)

Bogotá's own public bikes program is supposed to start in mid-2014 and consist of almost 3,000 bikes and 280 stations. A study of bicycle use in the city concluded that Kennedy, Chapinero, Teusaquillo and Usaquen - but apparently not the city center - are the most promising neighborhoods to begin. That will leave out huge parts of Bogotá, making me think that the project's usefulness will be limited.

Perhaps paradoxically, I also wonder whether the project is too ambitious. After all, Medellin has just a
Will public bikes motivate the city to better maintain bike lanes?
couple of hundred public bikes, while New York started off with 6,000. Can Bogotá really get its act together enough to make 3,000 bikes work? This will require lots of parking racks, (and hopefully) new bike lanes and signage to get people to use the bikes, as well as software, bike transport and payments systems, not to mention security so that the bikes don't get stolen.

Hopefully, bike lanes will be expanded, maintained and kept clear of cars and pedestrians to make casual cyclists feel safe.

The rack modules are supposed to be autonomously powered and not moored to the pavement, making them easily moveable. I hope that theyve considered the danger of thieves loading a complete rack with bikes into a truck and driving away. The whole program is projected to cost 30 billion pesos, part of which is supposed to be pitched in by an as-yet unnamed private company. Users are to pay between 60,000 and 80,000 pesos, presumably per year, plus additional charges for holding onto a bike for longer than the alloted time.

A bicyclist pedals along Calle 26, which has a
practical sidewalk bike lane. He may be moving
faster than the congested car traffic.
I'm also waiting to see how the city handles the issue of helmets. The law requires their use, altho that rule is rarely enforced. If the city decides to require public bike users to wear helmets, I'm afraid it could kill the program, since many people don't want to share a helmet, and almost nobody carries a bike helmet around with them.

And Bogotá is not London, Paris or Barcelona, where I'm told that cyclists get respect from drivers. Will enough Bogotanos dare to jump onto bikes and brave Bogotá's rain, pollution and aggressive drivers to make the program succeed? If public bikes fail here, it'll be a big blow to cycling.

Meanwhile, Mayor Petro is fighting to stay in office. If he goes, the whole idea likely will, too.
Riding in the cold rain on Ave. Septima.
The Dutch don't mind doing it, but many Bogotanos do.

But let's have faith. In addition to creating more cyclists, my great hope for public bikes in Bogotá is that they will raise cycling's status here and motivate the city to improve conditions for bicyclists.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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