Bogotá, Colómbia is the birthplace of the Ciclovía (bike path in English), a weekly civic event in which streets ordinarily used by cars are turned over to non motorized forms of transportation. A city of nearly 7 million people closes off 118 kilometers of road every Sunday morning so the public can enjoy a few hours of moving about without constantly watching for cars. Having been in existence for over 20 years, Bogotá’s Ciclovía has become part of the city’s culture.
Chuck Kooshian and Mike Turner of CCAP joined Carlosfelipe Pardo, Director of Despacio, a Bogotá based non-profit transportation consultancy, for a taste of institutionalized civic cycling over the weekend. Here’s what was observed.
- ·If something goes wrong with your bike, it can be fixed on the side of the road. When the custom built single speed ultra-light bike’s pedal crank came loose due to a stripped bolt, there were mechanics every couple of blocks. The only trouble was finding one who didn’t have a line of customers waiting.
- Large numbers of bikes and cars interact without difficulty. A system has been worked out whereby the bikes stop for cross traffic at major streets with signalized intersections while minor streets are closed at the Ciclovía end. Police and volunteers stand by to ensure there are no problems.
- A lot of pass-by bicycle traffic encourages interesting businesses. Besides the bike mechanics, food vendors, in-line skating and aerobics instructors, jugglers and entertainers all line the streets. Restaurants that have open air seating do a brisk business for brunch.
- Cruising the strip on a bike is a great way to people watch; you have a huge, ever-changing audience. Thousands of happy, smiling people are out on the street to see and be seen. Whether you are interested in men or women, minimalist bikes or decorated cruisers, children learning to ride or displays of cycling, skating or jogging virtuosity, big dogs or little dogs, there is always something to look at. Just remember to watch where you are going.
- Traveling by bike is faster and easier than expected in a city where the car traffic factor is removed. The distances in a fairly dense center city seem surprisingly close together when the stress of watching out for traffic is no longer depleting your mental energy.
A city that has a Ciclovía is teaching these lessons to people every week. After 20 years public attitudes toward transportation are bound to be different.
It is little wonder then that Colómbia is looking at new ways to address climate change. CCAP will continue to blog on the progress of our visit here and on Colómbia’s unique take on some big problems.