martes, 26 de septiembre de 2017

Making Cycling Safer: It isn't Easy

'Not One More Death!' Cyclists protest
the recent death of a Bogotá bicyclist.
Understandably, this year's Bogotá Bike Week is paying lots of attention to the problem of cyclist fatalities. After all, just recently two Bogotá bicyclists were killed by accidents on two consecutive days. And so far in 2017, some 45 cyclists have died on Bogotá streets. In contrast, in New York, which has about the same population and also a public bicycles program, about 15 cyclists die each year.

I'm writing this from northern California, where I'm visiting my
A video by the El Espectador newspaper
chronicles the number of Bogot'a cyclists
killed annualy, generally more than 50.
parents in a suburb east of San Francisco. Bicycling around here makes starkly clear how Bogotá falls short of being a cyclist-friendly city. Unfortunately, the improvements it needs aren't easy.

The 'Cicloruta' on Calle 13, in Bogotá.
Can you see it amidst all those pedestrians?
Safe, pleasant, useable bike lanes: Bogotá has some of these, and the city is improving. But many Bogotá bike lanes are merely lines painted on sidewalks, where cyclists must dodge around pedestrians, delivery drivers and cars. Other bike lanes have potholes or are blocked by signposts.

In contrast, in northern California, most bike lanes are wide, well-maintained and on streets, where
A California bike lane. Nice -
but where are the cyclists?
they actually take space away from cars.

A bicyclist (behind taxi/red arrow) tries to cross a
Bogotá intersection blocked by cars which ran the red light.
Cautious, courteous drivers: Unfortunately, many Bogotá motorists behave as tho they are the only ones with any rights. That's why you see pedestrians waiting interminably at crosswalks.

(When I block the cars to give an old lady a chance to cross, motorists insult me for it.)

Cycling across an intersection often becomes a game of chicken with drivers who run red lights or
Seldom seen in Bogotá: California cars
stop and wait to let a pedestrian
cross a street.
ignore stop signs and believe that neither laws nor common decency apply to them.

In contrast, here in the Bay Area when I even APPROACH an intersection drivers stop. Is something wrong? I wonder. No, they're waiting for me to cross. Is this out of courtesy, or because they're terrified of getting sued? Does it matter?

Of course, cyclists violate lots of traffic rules. But the general atmosphere of chaos and lack of civility on Bogotá streets makes a cyclist shake his shoulders and ask 'Why obey rules, if nobody else does?'

A Bogotá bus appears to aim its smokey
exhaust at a pedestrian.
Breathable air: In Bogotá, every time a bus, van or truck passes me, I hold my breath, half expecting to be blasted with diesel smoke. In Bogotá, even many cars belch fumes because they lack a catalytic converter or filters. As any Bogotano knows, in a congested spot, you can literally TASTE the air pollution.

Besides the obvious health impacts, this just makes bicycling unpleasant. In California, which has some of the world's strictest emissions laws, even in congested areas I barely sense fumes at all.

The first of these problems requires an engineering fix, and city planners appear to be improving: All the new bike lanes I've seen are on streets.

But the other two issues involve culture, which is tougher to change. Perhaps less apathetic (and less
New York City bicycling accident
rates have fallen steeply.
(Graph: N.Y. D.O.T.)
corrupt) transit police could help, as might public relations campaigns. But as long as the every-man-for-himmself credo rules, cycling, driving and walking Bogotá's streets will be dangerous and frustrating.

Yet, for all that, Bogotá has many more cycle commuters than do northern California's suburbs - and perhaps even more than does bike-friendly San Francisco.

That's why I'm becoming convinced that making cycling pleasant and making it popular are two very different - but related - issues. Fixing these troubles will lure onto two wheels only those people who already would like to bicycle, but are afraid to. To get more people to WANT to cycle will require  more fundamental social changes.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

jueves, 14 de septiembre de 2017

Subsidize the Bicycles!

Would a public bikes program get pedestrians like these on Carrera 7 pedaling?
For the hundredth time, Bogotá is planning a public bicycle system.

In Lyon, France, public bikes wait for riders.
The last one, bidded out by Mayor Petro to a consortium consisting of a Colombian man with a history of corruption problems, and a Chinese company - neither of which had experience with bicycles - died a quiet and deserved death.

That plan also absurdly required the bicycle scheme to pay profits to the city. Around the world, even in cities much wealthier and with much more tourism than Bogotá, such bicycle systems either receive public subsidies or have deep-pocketed corporate sponsors.

Paris, France, public bicycles.
Now, Bogotá Mayor Peñalosa plans to try again. And this time the bikes will not be required to pay the city - but neither are they to receive public monies.

Motor vehicles burn subsidized fuel and often get free parking - which all of us pay for. And all of us pay the costs' of vehicle pollution's health and environmental impacts.

Bicyclists, on the other hand, don't pollute, occupy little space and benefit people's health. But in Bogotá, bicycles don't receive those subsidies.

Lodz, Poland's public bicycles.
Around the world, public bikes are seen as a benefit because they reduce pollution and traffic congestion and improve citizens' health. So, why does Bogotá see bikes as a business and expect them to pay for themselves?

Unfortunately, in a city like Bogotá with lots of poverty and relatively few tourists and deep-pocketed tourists, a public bicycle system is unlikely to survive on its own economics.

When will Bogotá, with its ambitions of being a cycling mecca, put its money where its mouth is?

Public bicycles in Zongshan, China.
by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

miércoles, 13 de septiembre de 2017

Quite a Tragedy! (For Motorists)

During the last two days, two bicyclists have been killed violently in traffic on the streets of Bogotá, altho who's at fault is not clear.

But if you read about this tragedy on Caracol's website, you could be forgiven for thinking that its most important consequence was the inconvenience to drivers.

'The event (the killing) caused transit difficulties in northeast Bogotá. Some drivers reported traffic jams of up to one hour.' Feel so sorry for those drivers!
Alongside the story, the city's ad tells cyclists that they are heroes. Or, martyrs?
The killer car, according to a Facebook user.
El Tiempo's story gives a few more details about one killing, in La Calera. The car reportedly had mechanical problems, and the driver lost control. 

Will anybody be prosecuted for this killing? Or will the motorist whose deadly irresponsibility killed this cyclist be considered a victim and let off with a symbolic punishment, as usually happens to murderous drunk drivers?

The road up La Calera is popular among cyclists, but is narrow and often has lots of car traffic.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

miércoles, 6 de septiembre de 2017

Peñalosa's Experimental Bike Lanes

This broad new bike lane on Carrera 7 connects the city center
 to the Centro Internacional.
Mayor Peñalosa has created a number of new bike lanes - some better than others,

The pedestrianized secion of Carrrer 7 has finally been connected to the Centro Internacional and the
Until recently, the lane looked like this:
protected by temporary barriers.

Carrera 13 bike lane with a full-scale lane on Carrera Septima, complete even with tiny and annoying speed bumps.

Other lanes are being phased in, with heavy plastic barriers marking their paths until something concrete is installed.

While bike lanes mean more riders, they also generate complaints from drivers, who feel deprived of road space they believe belongs to them. Yet, from what I've seen, these proposed lanes are on quieter streets where the space won't be missed. And grumbling drivers ought to imagine how much worse congestion would be if each of those cyclists were instead driving a car.

This letter writer complains about bike lanes taking away space from cars, but forgets that bicyclists also open up room in cities.
And Bogotá's bike lanes get little respect:
Even Bogotá's best bike lanes get little respect.
These drivers thought this bike lane offered convenient parking.
And the provisional lanes even less respect:

A glance at Bogotá's traffic congestion shows that it's not the fault of bicycles or bike lanes:
A daily travail in Bogotá. Not the fault of bicycles.