The French city of Lyon was a pioneer in biking as public transportation.
Credit: Public domain
Pedaling Against Pollution
By Daniela Estrada
Citizens from around the world are rediscovering the bicycle, an efficient, cheap and clean form of urban transportation.
SANTIAGO, Oct 6 (Tierramérica).- With greenhouse gas emissions leading to global warming and the continued high prices of fuels, pedaling has come back in style in many cities of the industrialized world. In Chile, public bicycle services, bike routes and special parking areas are some of the initiatives in development.
"The most efficient, convenient and beneficial mode of transportation in polluted, congested and stressed cities is the bicycle," Amarilis Horta, president of the non-governmental Chilean Bici-culture Center, told Tierramérica.
Citizens' concerns about climate change and pollution, rising fuel prices and the need for physical activity to improve health are some of the reasons that bike-riding is seeing a boom in Chile.
Also playing a role in the growing popularity of biking is the frustration with Transantiago, the capital's mass transit system that was launched on Feb. 10, 2007, and has not kept up with expectations.
The bicycle "was originally seen as the worst punishment. Those who had no other alternative were burdened with the karma of having to move around on two wheels. It was also seen as a child's toy; something they got for Christmas," commented Horta.
There are twenty-some countries that have bicycle-based public transportation systems, including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden.
The administration, charges and technology associated with these services varies. The usually allow riders to use the bicycles for no more than one hour during their daily commute. They are picked up at one site, or station, and returned to another.
The Bicing System, promoted by the city government of Barcelona, in Spain, has more than 150,000 registered users and has 400 stations with a total of 6,000 bicycles, located near subway stations and bus stops.
In 2007, the European Union approved a regulation that requires trains to adapt their systems to allow cyclists to ride the trains with their bicycles. The European Cycling Federation is working on the EuroVelo project, a network of 66,000 kilometers of regional bike paths across Europe.
There are some efforts under way in Latin America as well. In Bogotá there are 344 km of bike paths used by 285,000 people. In Buenos Aires the Public Transport Bike System Act was passed in December 2007 and is now being implemented.
In Chile, the government of the Santiago Metropolitan Region launched a plan in 2007 to build 690 km of bike routes by 2012 -- 550 in urban areas and 140 in rural areas -- for a total of 38 million dollars. In parallel, a network of 200 bike parking sites will be created.
Also this year, the metropolitan government presented two bills on bicycle routes for the capital to be developed between 2009 and 2012, especially in neighborhoods where the air is highly polluted in winter.
The Santiago subway set aside space in four stations that can hold 22 bicycles. The cost for parking one day is 300 pesos, or 0.50 dollars.
Elsewhere on Jul. 17, the citizen-government working group was created in the Ministry of Transport to promote bicycle use. The effort includes representatives from the public and private sectors and from civil society.
Surveys about the starting point and destination of urban transit in Santiago show that just two percent of all trips in the capital are made using a bicycle, deputy transport secretary Cristián Navas told Tierramérica.
However, the studies conclude that in "an ideal scenario", with bike routes crossing the entire city, parking places for bikes and respect for cyclists, the demand will grow at least eight percent. That is one of the goals the government has set, Navas said.
In Santiago, city officials are defining strategic locations for bike parking and studying business models associated with them, he said.
In other regions of Chile, they are also making progress. In addition to carrying out a biking awareness campaign in the city of Concepción, in the central region of Bío bío, to strengthen the existing bike routes, the secretariat is planning a "pilot project for infrastructure and promoting bicycle use in mid-sized cities" that can be replicated across the country, he added.
Copepod, Quillota, Rancagua and Valdivia have already designed bike routes, and in the central region of Maule, 10 percent of travel is by bicycle.
The Cyclists Union of Chile, which includes the Bici-culture Center and legislative deputies, is drafting a bill on use, promotion and integration of the bicycle, presented to Parliament on Sep. 9.
From Nov. 9-16, the 3rd Festival of Bici-Culture will take place, organized by the center.
The Providencia district in the capital will launch Chile's first public bicycle service in November. Bikes will be available for one hour within the district limits for anyone who signs up to use them.
A private company will run the service, which costs two dollars a month, or 14.5 dollars a year. There will be 100 bikes distributed amongst 10 stations in Providencia.
The French city of Lyon began its service Vela's in 2005. It now has more than 3,000 bicycles available at 350 stations. The goal is to have one station within 300 meters of any point in the city.
* Daniela Estrada is an IPS correspondent.