Sunday, May 25, 2008

Riding a Different Path

Lance Armstrong would love Bogotá, especially on Sundays. Why? Well, there are several reasons. Over the past decade, Bogotá has created the most extensive bicycle path system of any city in the world. With 303 kilometers of bike paths, many people can ride to work or for recreation without worrying about being hit by buses and cars. Each Sunday (and holiday), almost two million cyclists, joggers, and roller-bladers use the 70 miles of blocked off lanes along main roads. These lanes are blocked off from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. All this at 8,661 feet above sea level.

Enrique Peñalosa, who became Bogotá’s mayor 10 years ago, was one of the most influential people behind the positive changes in a city that had been one of the most dangerous in the world. He made dramatic changes with the use of urban space. One of those changes was the bicycle paths. It helped create better health and a sense of community. Not bad for a city that only a few years earlier had a murder rate of 80 per 100,000. Many residents have told me that the city is more relaxed now. Besides the bike paths, one resident told me about the clowns and mimes. Because cars were often driving through red lights and not respecting pedestrian rights, Peñalosa put clowns and mimes at all the major traffic lights in Bogotá. When someone went through a red light, the clown would make a joke about them. At first it seemed odd, but soon the attitudes of the people changed and cars began respecting the red lights and pedestrians. These positive changes have led to the current bicycling and outdoor events, known as Ciclovía.

Every Sunday morning I pull open my curtain and look at the bicyclers and roll-bladers on the street below. This morning there were more joggers than usual. They were running in the city’s 10-kilometer road race. It’s always good to see people out exercising on their one day off. This is yet another reason why there are virtually no fat people in Bogotá.

The Bogotá bicycle path system is being used as a model for cities throughout Colombia as well as big cities throughout the world, such as Chicago, New York, and Paris. Still, these wealthy international cities have a long way to go until they reach the precedent set in Bogotá.


Anonymous said...

Hi Brett,
Loved this entry. Thanx for including the street films clips. I think I will be heading to Bogota this year. Any tips on getting a place and working as a language teacher?

Brett Garamella said...

Email me and I'll give you more information:

Anonymous said...

Well it wasn't Penalosa who put Mimes and clowns on the streets it was Antanas Mockus the fomer mayor of Bogota. He seems to have strange antics yet effective. That reminds me Mockus is a presidential candidate for the 2010 elections.

Brett Garamella said...

You are right, it was Antanas Mockus who put the clowns and mimes on the streets. I was misinformed. However, Enrique Peñalosa started the ball rolling and Mockus took it to another level. There is a documentary that was recently released about how these two men changed Bogota from one of the most dangerous capitals in the world to a model city... it is called "Bogota Change."

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