miércoles, 30 de septiembre de 2015

Laws for Biking?

It has an engine, burns fuel, belches smoke and goes vroom. So is it a bicycle or a motorcycle? 
Colombian lawmakers are considering pro-cycling laws right now - but unfortunately they likely won't get much priority - and lots of opposition.

A bici-motor in a downtown bike lane.
One would prohibit bicycles equipped with motors from bike lanes. It might just seem like common sense that a bicycle with a motor is, by definition, a motorcycle. However, because the motors' have less than 50 cc of displacement, the city's motor vehicle laws don't cover them, That's despite their being very noisy and often generating more pollution than a car, since their two-stroke engines burn oil.

One complication with banning the motorized bikes from bike lanes is distinguishing them from electric bikes, which are also motor-powered, but don't pollute or make much noise and go much slower than gasoline-powered motor-bikes. The electric bikes aren't a problem, the gasoline-powered ones are.

In any case, if this legislation nears becoming law, you can expect the motor-bikes' makers and users to scream that barring them from bike lanes violates their human rights. But that's not all. Even when they're on the street, they should be equipped with anti-pollution devices and their riders should be licensed.

A second law, in Congress, is intended to promote cycling - actually has some good things: It would provide some financial incentives, albeit small ones, for frequent cyclists, and would also give extra time off for public employees who commute by bike.

Unfortunately, the benefits are slight compared to the huge subsidies given to motor vehicles, such as free parking and subsidized fuel - not to mention the non-stop onslaught of pro-car propaganda.

The law's most important benefit might be a change of mentality legitimizing bike commuting in a climate where many workplaces provide no place for bike parking, much less showers or a changing room.

Businesses will undoubtedly oppose this legislation, as more costs and government regulation. This despite the fact that more bike commuters means healthier employees, and each worker who switches from driving to cycling can mean big savings in less parking.

By Mike Ceaser of Bogota Bike Tours

jueves, 24 de septiembre de 2015

Petro's Polemic Bike Lanes

Cars wait beside an empty bike lane on Calle 39, in Teusaquillo.
Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro is using the last months of his term to add bike lanes to some of the city's avenues - and earning ire for it. Neighbors and motorists have complained and even organized protests against proposed lanes.

But isn't there a logical flaw here? Drivers complain because they feel that bike lanes steal space from them, slowing them down and increasing congestion.
Cars stuck in a traffic jam beside a bike lane on Calle 24. None of these people could have used a bicycle instead?
But don't these lanes, rather, offer an escape route from the inevitable and worsening traffic jams? The number of private cars in Bogotá is booming, and a first subway line - which won't solve traffic congestion, anyway - is more than a decade away. City leaders are afraid of the only realistic solution, a congestion charge. So, the bike lanes are commuters only real escape hatch from traffic jams.

Instead of complaining about traffic jams, drivers should start taking advantage of them. And they should remember that each of those annoying cyclists is potentially one fewer driver slowing them down.

A cyclist waits for a light to change in a bike lane along the Parkway in Teusaquillo.

A group of cyclists in the new bike lane on Calle 39.
And here's a street, Ave. Caracas, which could use a bike lane.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

miércoles, 10 de junio de 2015

Bogotá Drops Off The List

Where's Bogotá?
A decade ago, Bogotá, Colombia was of obligatory inclusion in any list of bike-friendly cities. The Colombian capital was that surprising example of the troubled, developing world nation, scourged by violence which nevertheless managed to promote sustainable transit, including cycling.

Cyclists riding in the bike lane on Carrera Septima,
from which Mayor Petro banned car traffic during the day.
That was then. Today, while Bogotá still has some worthwhile cycling initiatives, other cities have leapfrogged it, with successful public bikes programs, expanding cycle ways networks and traffic calming policies. That shows in Copenhagenize's recent rankings of bike-friendly cities, in which Bogotá doesn't even appear. (It has not in previous rankings, either.)

Certainly, Bogotá does deserve some points. Mayor Gustavo Petro has promoted cycling, altho more with slogans and p.r. than durable changes on the pavements. He's added bike lanes and banned cars from Carrera Septima (altho that positive move will likely end with his administration, I suspect). But Petro's billboards and radio spots telling Bogotanos that two wheels are better than four hasn't exactly produced a flood of cyclists. Rather, Petro has overseen a record increase in private car use and actually a drop in bike commuting, if statistics are to be trusted.

The Colombian capital also falls flat in terms of public bicycles. The Petro administration did, finally,
A solitary cyclist on a main Bogotá avenue. Cyclists
account for only a few percent of Bogotá trips.
issue a contract for such a program a few months ago. But the contract conditions are economically inviable, it seems to me, and neither do the company's owner's history of corruption problems bode well for the program.

As for cyclists' social acceptance and traffic conditions: Don't ask me after a day like today, when cars refused to stop for cyclists unless we physically blocked them, and cabbies seemed disposed to run right over us, when confronted by the outrageous prospect of giving way to a non-motorized vehicle. If Bogotá managed to achieve a two-wheeled modal share of 20% or even 10%, then motor vehicles might get used to us and give us some respect. But just a few percentage points won't do it.

Mayor Petro's administration created a public bike lending program, but it's not very useful for transportation. 
A woman carries her child on her bike. Female cyclists are still a minority in Bogotá.

And the bad...

On Carrera Septima, a cyclist wears a mask for protection against pollution.

Near the Universidad Nacional, cyclists using a bike lane wait to cross a street, as cars ignore a stop sign.
And the cyclists continue waiting, futily. (I had to block the cars to enable them to finally cross.)
This intersection above Calle 26 can force cyclists and pedestrians to stop and wait three times while crossing.
This one-way street in central Bogotá is heavily used by cyclists heading toward Carrera Septima, obliging them to ride illegally against traffic. Why not add a bike lane?

Would you risk this? A cyclist maneuvers among buses in central Bogotá.

However, reputations don't die easily...

'A cyclist's paradise?' The Lonely Planet tourist guide still believes it...

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

miércoles, 22 de abril de 2015

A Nice Day for (the Few) Cyclists

A bicyclist enjoys open road space on the normally car-choked NQS today.
Today's extra Petro-sponsored Car-Free Day appeared to motivate more Bogotanos to stay home than to switch to other forms of transit. But for those who did use their bikes, the open street space and lower pollution did make cycling lots more pleasant.

For the first time that I can recall, the Car-Free Day included a Ciclovia, normally just on Sundays and holidays. 

But even with all that, the number of cyclists didn't seem much greater than normal.

Bogotá's occasional Car-Free Days, while well intentioned to change people's transit habits, are too few and far between to accomplish much. Instead, Petro should back the London-style congestion charge which he promised us upon election, but then abandoned in the face of political opposition.

According to El Tiempo, bicycle - or, bike parking lot - use rose 9.2%, SITP bus use rose 19% and pollution dropped 15%.

Contrast with a cyclist trapped in traffic on a normal day.
A few cyclists on La Ciclovia on 26th Street near the Universidad Nacional.

Bicycles - well, a few of them - use a bike lane near the Universidad Nacional.
This bicyclist on the NQS near Palo Quemao today had lots of space.
Not so nice for cycling: The same stretch of NQS on a normal, polluted, traffic-choked day.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

jueves, 9 de abril de 2015

What Bicycle Boom?

Wow! There' a cyclist among those cars!
Can you spot the cyclists in these photos, among all the cars?

The cyclist is the dot on the upper left.
A month ago, after the bicycle summit in Medellin, there was much talk of a 'bicycle boom' in Colombia, and across Latin America. Maybe it's true in some places, and one does see lots of bikes in specific spots in Bogotá.

But the real boom here, tragically, is in private cars. And a recent report by the DANE made it official: in Colombia, bicycle commuting is actually DOWN from last year, while commuting to work by car is INCREASING.

According to the DANE, bicycle commuting dropped dramatically from 4.4% in 2013 to 3.5% last year
El Tiempo 'Use of cars increases and of bicycles drops.'
Of course, this shouldn't be surprising. For all of the Petro administration's commendable pro-bike publicity campaigns and new bike lanes, they can't compete with the economic and propaganda onslaught pushing private car use.

'Free Parking.' Free parking is not only a huge subsidy for car driving, but also sends a message that you are supposed to drive everywhere.
But Petro could still save the situation, by supporting the London-style congestion charge he talked about upon election (but then proceeded to abandon).

There a cyclist!
Thousands of cyclists turn out on Sundays and Holidays for La Ciclovia. But few of these people go to work or school on two wheels.
When many bicyclists, like this guy, feel compelled to wear gas masks because authorities don't bother to control pollution, is it any wonder that lots of people fear pedaling?
One of the chronic traffic jams in La Candelaria. On the hill above the neighborhood the private Universidad Externado is building a huge parking garage. 

Any bikes in sight?
Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

domingo, 29 de marzo de 2015

The Fatal Flaw in Bogotá's Public Bikes Plan

Capital Bikeshare bikes in Washington, D.C., which receive public subsidies. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Finally, after years of dithering, trial runs, suspensions and false starts, Bogotá last week accepted a proposal for a public bicycles service - and it portends disaster.

The winner is a Colombo-Chinese consortium with no experience in bicycles, one of whose owners has a history marked by corruption and incompetence.

EcoBici bikes, in Mexico City, which receive
public subsidies. (Photo: Wikipedia)
How did we come to this? Several reputable organizations and companies with real experience in the bike business expressed interest in administering Bogotá's public bikes, but they pulled out because they couldn't see how to make it work financially. In contrast, winning consortium BiciBogotá not only says it can make a profit providing public bikes for Bogotá, but even promises to pay the city a 35% slice of its profits.

To a lot of us, including several of the losing contenders, that sounds completely unrealistic.

A representative of Next Bike, a German company which had expressed interest in Bogotá's public bikes system but decided it was economically inviable, told La Otra Cara website in 2014 that "they're going to supply Bogotá with U.S. $15.00 bicycles which will be destroyed after a few months' use."

Barclays Bikes in London, which are sponsored by the bank.
(Photo: Wikipedia)
There's no apparent reason why reputable companies, with track records administering public bike programs in other cities, should not be interested in Bogotá. After all, it's a big, flat city with a growing economy and a reputation for cycling. And, while Bogotá has lots of crime and poverty, so do Medellin, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Santiago, Chile and Mexico City, where public bike programs function.

However, Bogotá's government, despite its leftist credentials, approached the deal with an intensely capitalist mentality. Rather than envisioning the bikes as a public service deserving subsidies because of its quality of life benefits thru better health, reduced pollution and less traffic congestion, the government wants the bikes to generate profits.

Perhaps such schemes can stand on their own economically in rich cities such as New York and
London, with huge tourist flows, where residents can shell out the dollars to pedal and where advertising space commands premium rates. But that's not Bogotá, Colombia.

Bogotá's public bikes: Subsidies, no, profits, yes.
(Photo: David Luna)
Even New York's Citi Bike program has struggled financially, the Washington Post reports, despite sponsorships from Citibank and MasterCard, while Washington D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare has receives clean air and anti-congestion grants.

From the Post story quoting Chris Hamilton, a regional transportation official:

"They can’t go into starting bikeshare thinking that it’s going to pay for itself. It should be treated like any other part of the transportation system: like the buses, the bikeways, the rail, the sidewalks."

If a city declines to view bikeshare this way, making the public investment that entails, Hamilton says, "I think you set it up to fail." 

This is particularly true because those vehicles which do congest the city, generate pollution and destroy our health do receive huge - if often invisible . subsidies thru free parking and the way we all suffer under their negative impacts.

Bogotá's public bikes story smacks of a mayor rushing to ink a contract before he's out the door. That might be because he wants to leave a legacy or possibly for other, less admirable motives. But, either way, it looks like a route to disaster.

Nevertheless, I'm going to cross my fingers, knock on wood, hold out hope and keep the faith that this just might succeed. If it doesn't, after all, it'll be a huge setback for bicycling in Bogotá.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

martes, 24 de marzo de 2015

An Anti-Cyclists Intersection

Cyclists riding east along the Calle 24 bike lane cross Carrera 19. 
Despite boasting one of the city's very few protected, on-road bike lanes, along Calle 24 the car's have all the rights, and cyclists none. At the crossing with Carrera 19, at any time, the stoplights are either giving eastbound drivers on Calle 24 the green light to turn left across the bike lane, or are green for northbound drivers on Calle 19.
But cars turning left from Calle 24 onto Carrera 19 cut them off.
Last year, I sent the city's transit department a complaint about this, and they replied with a six-stage scheme for reworking the intersection. I replied that all they really needed to do was alter the timing of the stoplights. Since then, naturally, they've done nothing at all.

The anti-bicycle intersection.

This is the worst anti-cyclist intersection I know of, but not the only one. A bit west on 26th St. in front of the Inpec headquarters, the lights gives cyclists and pedestrians only about 5 seconds to cross with all three lights green. Those who don't manage to dash across must stop and wait, stop and wait, crossing in three stages as the various lights turn green.

And, as soon as the vehicles stop turning left, the traffic along Carrera 19 begins crossing.
Where do we cyclists go from here?
Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours