Issue of November, 03, 2008
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Cycling needs urban infrastructure.
Credit: Public domain
Cyclists Speed Up Transportation Changes
By Diego Cevallos

On pure pedal power, activists, academics and authorities are working to design policies that will make healthy bicycling a viable mode of transportation in Mexico's polluted capital.

MEXICO CITY, Nov 3 (Tierramérica).- Cyclists in the Mexican capital who pedal while nude once a year and organize tours through the city have overcome the suspicions of city officials and now are participating in designing plans to benefit this environmentally-friendly mode of transportation.

Since September, and every two weeks, representatives of the non-governmental organization Bicitekas share a discussion table for defining plans alongside delegates from the municipal government, the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a U.S.-based international group. The goal is to create bigger and better spaces for bicycling in a city with 10,200 kilometers of roads and 3.5 million vehicles, with at least 300,000 more cars being added each year.

According to the draft of the plans, by 2018 there should be 600 kilometers of bikeways (compared to 80 km now), boosting the use of bicycles, which today is very dangerous and limited to just 0.7 percent of all trips inside the city. An average of 30 cyclists are killed each year in accidents in Mexico City.

The bike paths, whose routes rarely coincide with the mains streets and avenues, are part of a plan for 2030 to achieve a city with bicycle lanes in the streets, zones where one would need to pay to circulate in a car, and sites for renting and storing non-motorized vehicles.

"Finally the municipal government has taken us into account. They are listening to us after 10 years of activism and of considering us extremists," Agustín Martínez, one of the 1998 founders of Bicitekas, told Tierramérica.

Martínez celebrated the Sunday municipal program known as "Muévete en Bici" (Ride Your Bike), replication of a 30-year-old initiative in Bogotá, on Oct. 29 won the "Active Cities, Healthy Cities" award sponsored by the Pan-American Health Organization.

The program "is a motivation for the citizens," but the important thing is to change society so that the bicycle becomes a central element in the new plans for city transportation, clean, fast and enjoyable, said the activist.

Xavier Treviño, assistant director in Mexico of the ITDP, also applauded the city for the award, and agreed with Martínez that "Muévete" is one of the elements of a strategy under construction that "began late and is progressing slowly."

The award-winning program involves closing 10 kilometers of the city's central roadways from automobiles on Sundays, freeing them up for cyclists, skaters and walkers. Once a month the street closing is expanded to 30 km.

Mexico City is planning to go beyond this in the long term in a process involving officials and civil society. "Only in this way will there be guarantees for the future," Treviño told Tierramérica.

"It could be said that the programs are delayed, and it's true, but it is a result of the dialogue we've begun. It's better to advance slowly but surely," he added.

In December 2007, the authorities announced that they would begin to set aside 60 km of bikeways. But so far nothing has been done.

The official goal is that in 10 years five percent of travel in the city will be on bicycle.

That many bikers would cut annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 2.4 million tons, 5,000 tons of nitrogen oxide, 80,000 tons of carbon monoxide and 100 tons of particulates, according to official estimates.

The contacts between the ITDP, Bicitekas, UNAM and the capital city government go back several months.

During the term of Marcelo Ebrard, begun in December 2006, several pro-cycling measures were initiated, such as allowing bicycles on buses and the subway.

Treviño said that in December there will be special lanes for bicycles along a stretch of the central Reforma Avenue, 14.9 kilometers, and the city will launch a campaign to promote bike riding.

The Bicitekas activists will boost official plans not only by participating in the discussions but also by continuing to organize city bike tours: on Thursdays the Lobos-bike route, on Fridays the Lunáticos cyclists, Saturdays the Biciellas, and Sunday's the Biciraptors, Biciperros and the Paseo del Gato.

And they will continue their nude bike tour once a year as part of the global mobilization that takes place in several cities every June to call attention to bicycle riding.

* IPS correspondent.

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