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Get on your bike

July 25, 2012

Cyclists in Bogota, Colombia are forced to share the road with thousands of cars, horse-drawn carts and people, but not on Sundays.

https://p.dw.com/p/15ee2

Most days in Bogota, a bustling, chaotic city of eight million people, cyclists have to contend with bumper-to-bumper traffic, horse-driven carts, hoards of pedestrians and construction projects that grind mobility to a halt.

But every Sunday, something transforms the city. Ciclovia – literally meaning bicycle route – is a weekly event that closes 120 kilometres (75 miles) of roads to vehicles, and opens them up to cyclists and pedestrians. On a typical Sunday, over a million people fill the city's car-free streets, and bicycles, roller blades and sneakers pass where vehicles normally do.

On Seventh Avenue, a main artery that cuts across the city, food vendors line the streets and bicycle mechanics are stationed every kilometer. Over 3,000 personnel, including volunteers, first aid auxiliaries and city police are dispersed across the city to help keep Ciclovia running smoothly.

Although Ciclovia was started in the 1970s, it wasn't until Enrique Penalosa took the helm as the city's Parks Commissioner that the city expanded Ciclovia and made it a regular part of Bogota life which city residents starting coming to in droves.

Today, Ciclovia is a beloved institution in the nation's capital. It's not just about bicycles, said Penalosa. "This is about community and about building healthy, vibrant cities…It's great for recreation, but it's great for public health and the environment too."

Bogota Fahrrad
Bogotanos come out in droves to make the most of the traffic-free streetsImage: DW

Promoters of Ciclovia believe its benefits have the potential to extend beyond Sundays. "When people go out to Ciclovia, they notice how much more effective transportation is, you don't have to deal with so many traffic jams that generate stress," said Gabriel Angulo, a mountain bike rider. "If Ciclovia gives people the incentive to bicycle more frequently, that is progress."

But Bogotanos wanting to make the bicycle their primary means of transportation from Monday through to Saturday face a discouraging mess of traffic, construction and scores of reckless drivers. Even though Bogota has 344 kilometers of bicycle routes, most of them share space with the sidewalk – and that means getting overtaken by pedestrians and vending carts.

Bogota Fahrrad
Promoters believe the benefits of Ciclovia extend beyond SundaysImage: DW

Colin Gavignet, an American teacher living in the city, wants to be able to cycle everywhere, but for him Bogota isn't such a bike-friendly city. "It's trying to be, but it's not easy because there's a lot of enemies for the bikes; buses, cars, pedestrians…there's a lot of people who die on their bikes every year, it's still a dangerous mode of transportation here," said Gavignet. That reality makes Ciclovia Sundays a precious day for Bogotanos wanting to use their streets – as well as a unique opportunity for a city sharply divided by inequality.

"Ciclovia is the biggest space Colombia has for civic coexistence," said Jorge Mauricio Ramos, Ciclovia's coordinator. Ciclovia has become a social experiment of sorts. "We have all socio-economic strata enjoying Ciclovia," he added. “It doesn't matter if your clothing is a brand name or not, what's important is that this space is for everyone, there are no limitations or discrimination.”

Author: Nadja Drost, Bogota, Colombia
Editor: Jessie Wingard

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