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Ciclovia: Bogotá, Colombia

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel with comrades Karla Quintero (Transportation Alternatives) and Aaron Naparstek (Streetsblog) to Bogotá, Colombia to document some of the amazing advances going on in the livable streets movement there. On Sunday we spent the entire day - from 5 AM 'til nearly 5 PM - riding bicycles around the city courtesy of the Ciclovia, a weekly event in which over 70 miles of city streets are closed to traffic where residents come out to walk, bike, run, skate, recreate, picnic, and talk with family, neighbors & strangers...it is simply one of the most moving experiences I have had in my entire life.

I shot with no plan, not knowing much of what was coming up next while we rode our bikes, just trying to capture the event in the moment. We were aided tremendously by the indefatigable Gil Peñalosa, Executive Director of Walk and Bike for Life (yes, brother of Enrique, the former Bogotá mayor.) Gil and his friendly support crew booked us an ambitious schedule and provided unparalleled access to people and places, allowing this mini film to be so much more than I had planned. And dare I leave out our StreeJ Karla Q, who was just so great on the mike. I think we came up with something very special and fun that will hopefully support and propel this movement forward in U.S. cities.

What immediately comes to mind when I think back to our trip were the ubiquitous smiles on everyone's faces wherever we went. Nearly 1.8 million Colombians out using the Ciclovia and Recreovia to de-stress, get healthy, and connect personally with their fellow citizens. Young or old, rich or poor, pedestrian or cyclist - in Bogotá everyone loves the Ciclovia.

Just to get a grasp on just what this could be like in NYC: imagine the once-a-year Bike New York event in May, multiply the number of participants by over 30, double the mileage of roads closed to cars and leave them that way for a full seven hours, make the event free, and then do it every Sunday - and holidays!(Note: this is the first of multiple reports from Bogotá. In the near future, look for a short(s) on BRT, cycle paths, Bogotá life and parks.)

[intro music]

Speaker: [00:14] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [00:24] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [00:33] [speaking Spanish]


Karla Quintero: [00:47] So it’s two o’clock today and the Ciclovia’s almost over. We’ve had a really long day. We got up at five in the morning and we got to see how it all started, everything from packing up the vendor stations in the trucks, to barricading the streets and closing it to cars. It was pretty light traffic at the beginning because the weather wasn’t so great, but at about eight o’clock it started getting packed. It’s a really beautiful way to see the city. There’s just tons of people, all different kinds, all different ages. There’s even a segment called the Recreovia and this is absolutely great because they have about 28 stages with aerobics instructors and rumba instructors, and they’re giving free classes to any citizen that wants to participate. It’s really something beautiful to see.


Speaker: [01:34] [speaking Spanish]

Gil Penalosa: [02:21] When we were staring the Ciclovia when I was Commissioner of Parks, Sports and Recreation, we were running crease from 13k, which is about eight miles, to over 90k and we needed a lot of people to work on it. So we put an ad in the paper saying we need supervisors of the Ciclovia and these are the requirements. We got 20 resumes and we were expecting over 200. So at the time the number one programme on Columbia’s TV was Baywatch, so we put an ad in the paper saying we need Bikewatch, tall handsome athletic ra, ra ra, and we got 1500 resumes, which shows that social marketing works. And so now these people are called Bikewatch and they’re like the managers of the Ciclovia.

Speaker: [03:06] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [03:23] It’s the biggest programme around the world and doing sport, more 120 kilometres in a city so different, [unintelligible 03:34]. And always we are university students and it’s a good job because we have enough time for that kind of labour.

Speaker: [03:41] This is beautiful man because we work for the city and everybody smiles at you. And this is a beautiful work.

Karla Quintero: [03:51] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [03:54] [speaking Spanish]


Speaker: [04:33] [speaking Spanish]

Karla Quintero: [04:47] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [04:51] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [05:02] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [05:11] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [05:33] [speaking Spanish]

Gil Penalosa: [05:45] The obesity rate in the US have skyrocketed, almost every State has obesity. Not overweight, obesity. And how else can you get thousands and thousands of people doing physical activity? So then the infrastructure is there. It’s free. The roads are already there. All you got to do is close it. You need operational cost to set it up and then you can get this fantastic idea, which is like a party but that everybody attends. The rich and the poor, and the young and the old and everybody.

Speaker: [06:11] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [06:18] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [06:23] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [06:34] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [06:41] [speaking Spanish]


Karla Quintero: [07:00] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [07:03] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [07:07] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [07:12] At the Recreovia we have different activities from eight o’clock to one o’clock. The first session that that we have is a basic aerobics class. The second class is stretching. The next class is class for children, and the classes for children we practice with the parents and the children activities with music.

Karla Quintero: [07:34] How excited do people get?

Speaker: [07:36] Like a lot. They are very happy. They prefer come here instead of being in the house.

Speaker: [07:43] [speaking Spanish]

Karla Quintero: [07:57] [speaking Spanish]

Speaker: [07:58] I give classes. I’m the teacher.

Karla Quintero: [08:02] Of which one?

Speaker: [08:03] All the classes. This is the uniform.


Speaker: [08:23] [speaking Spanish]

Gil Penalosa: [08:48] A lot of cities are thinking of doing activities like Ciclovia. Guadalajara started only two years ago with eight miles and now they’re at 16 miles. Santiago, then Chile, started. In Paris in France, they close some roads. In Ottawa in Canada, there is like 35 miles of Ciclovia on Sundays from May to September. So I think that there are some cities in the US that are thinking about it, so just Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, Portland, New York. And this is something that any city could do it, cities of 50,000 people or cities of ten million people.



Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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