sábado, 18 de enero de 2014

Three Bici-Pioneers

Lida Fernanda Romero of Bucaramanga, Colombia

Lida Fernanda Romero, right,
being interviewed by Monica Davila.
A year ago, a group of bicyclists in Bucaramang, most of them women, founded Ciclaramanga with the goal of promoting bicycling in this warm, humid city of 1.2 million. Their goal was nothing less than transforming Bucaramanga "from a city which prohibits the bicycle to one which loves the bicycle," says Lida Fernanda Romero, a Ciclaramanga founder and its representative in Bogotá.

And they had their work cut out for them: As in most of Colombia, bicycling in Bucaramanga is restricted mostly to students and poor people who want to save on bus fare - most all of them male. And the city has many streets with signs saying 'Bicycles prohibited,' says Romero.

Lida Fernanda Romero.
On the other hand, Bucaramanga does have its version of Bogotá's Sunday/holiday Ciclovia - but it's only a few kilometers long, Romero says.

Ciclaramanga has lobbied for more bicycle infrastructure. It's also organized regular bike rides, which have drawn as many as 800 riders, Romero says.

There is potential for cycing infrastructure. Bucaramanga's newspaper, La Vanguardia Liberal, reported this September that the city has several milion dollars designated for cycling infrastructure, but that no mayor of the city has ever created a plan to use that money. The city's master transit plan also specifies the construction of 39 kms of bike lanes between now and the year 2030 - but no work has begun, according to the newspaper.

"All the plans (for cycling) are on paper," Romero says of cyclinlg infrastructure, "but nothing's actually been done."

Evidently, Bucaramanga still has a ways to go to love the bicycle.

William Miranda, left, of Teusacatubici.

William Miranda of Teusaquillo, Bogotá

Whether in Bogotá, Bucaramanga or Lima, Peru, bicycle advocacy can be frustrating work. It means battling against traffic, vested interests and uncooperative public officials.

About a year ago, William Miranda and other Teusaquilla neighborhood residents started Teusacatubici, whose name combines 'Teusaquillo' with the phrase 'Bring out your bicycle.'

Teusacatubici organizes a weekly group bike ride and works to make the stately neighborhood more bike friendly. And Teusaquillo does have lots of potential for cycling: It is flat, has wide, generally quiet streets and many high schools and universities.

The evening I attended one of Teusacatubici's regular Thursday  night bicycle rides I guesstimated
Teusacatubici's 'pirate' bike
lane along the Parkway.
more than 50 riders participated.

But Teusacatubici's efforts to work with the neighborhood's City Hall have been met with closed doors, Miranda says. As a result, the group took matters into their own hands and painted its own cycle route along the long, green corridor named The Parkway. While some cyclists do use the cycle lane, motorists ignore it and drive right over it.

Participants in Teusacatubici's
Thursday night bike ride.
Miranda said that local media called it a 'pirate' bike lane.

"It's not a pirate lane," he responds, "but a lane for living the bicycle."

On the other hand, the 'pirate lane' is a very visible assertion that bicycles belong on the road and have rights - as well as being a protest against government apathy.

Jessica Tantalean Noriega of Lima, Perú

Jessica Tantalean Noriega.
Until about 2 1/2 years ago, declarations in favor of the bicycle by officials in and around Lima, Peru were little more than public relations gestures, says Jessica Tantalean Noriega, until recently the director of bicycle issues for Lima. But in 2011 the city government integrated cycling into various city agencies, such as health, the environment and education and developed metropolitan bicycle promotion policies.

"But that doesn't mean that local governments will pay attention," Tantalean laments.

So far, the new attitude has brought some advances, including new bike lanes, now totaling 130 kilometers, as well as bicycle parking at some bus and subway stations. One Lima neighborhood, San Borja, even has a public bicycle program. But because it depends heavily on workers rather than technology (like Bogotá's own scheme on Ave. Septima), the program can't be expanded to other parts of the city, says Tantalean. Lima has also hired a Spanish firm to design a city-wide bike lending program, she added. Lima's public bikes are supposed to start rolling this year, according to news reports.

Lima has also built more than 100 kms of bike lanes - still far less than what bike advocates say the city
Public bicycles in Lima's San Borja
neighborhood. (Photo: Flickr)
needs - and constructed bike parking around the city.

Lima even has its own version of Bogotá's Sunday/holiday Ciclovia, called CicloDia. While such programs are recreational, Tantalean hopes that spurring families to purchase bicycles will make it more likely Limeños will use those bikes to commute as well as play.

However, many other pro-cycling plans "are just on paper," Tantalean says.

And a recent reorganization shifted cycling to the city's urban management office, which could reduce cycling's priority.

Tantalean envies Bogotá for its municipal Bicycle Working Group (altho I've never seen the group produce results) and the possibility of a future Bogotá city cycling coordinator.

For Bogotá cycling advocates, Tantalean has several pieces of advice. Where infrastructure projects are concerned, it's crucial to become involved from the start.

"If the bicycle isn't incorporated from the beginning (of a project), it won't be incorporated," at all, she warns.

And, as nice as slogans can be, she says that hard reasoning is key winning policy battles.

"If we just say 'The bicycle is life' and 'The bicycle is love,' we'll never win," she says. "We need to use technical arguments."

 By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

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