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Lessons from Bogotá

Had enough livable streets lessons from Bogotá? Good. Neither have we.

In the final chapter of our September NYCSR visit to Colombia, where the indefatigable Gil Peñalosa was our tour guide, you'll find lots of tasty video morsels including: riding the comfortable ciclorutas and cycle paths, a visit to a thriving pedestrian-only street where they said it couldn't be done, a "bollard farm," mucho footage of the city's parks and public spaces and comments from the city's residents. And we couldn't resist - just a wee bit more dance mania at the Recreovia.

If this is your first foray into Bogotá, might we suggest these related Streetfilms which will bring you up to speed on Ciclovia and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT):

Ciclovia (9:41)

Bus Rapid Transit: Bogotá (7:29)

Mark Gorton Interviews Enrique Peñalosa (12:07)


[intro music]

Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [00:01] So in the summer of 2007 my friend, Ethan Kent, had showed me photos that he and his wife, Alia, had taken when they went down to Bogota and participated in the Ciclovia. Immediately I was struck by how much fun it looked like it was, and we decided that Streetfilms should go down there and capture a slice of that and bring it back to the United States. In the process we also hooked up with Gil Penalosa who proceeded to help us expand our mission and we ended up taking a look at the Bus Rapid Transit system as well as the parks and the cycle paths, and a lot of the liveable streets improvements they have made in Bogota.


Gil Penalosa: [00:38] Only ten years ago parks were so not important in Bogota that someone could be elected without ever mentioning this topic. Today no-one could be elected to the smallest ward of the city without making parks and open space and bicycles and pedestrian issues a major part of their campaign.


Karla Quintero: [00:56] This was a really great trip, in part because New York City right now is working to promote congestion pricing, the Department of Transportation is working to build new more elaborate bike lanes, make the streets safer for pedestrians and do all these wonderful things have already taken place in Bogota. And so this was a really good opportunity to visit a large city just to see how these changes impacted citizens.


Gil Penalosa: [01:22] Now, before this promenade was built, this is what it looked like. So if you had of come ten years ago, this is what you would have found, this dump.


Aaron Naparstek: [01:34] Gil Penalosa arranged a petty cab tour for us of this one section of the city that was really very poor. It had dirt roads, you know, for the most part. In some cases we saw open sewers, we saw cows chewing grass. What was mind-blowing about this neighbourhood was that it also had a bicycle and pedestrian path that was as nice and as finely engineered really as anything you’d see in Holland or Denmark.


Gil Penalosa: [02:06] As you can see, the promenade is wide enough, for one thing it has really nice trees. Trees especially for this area where there’s little rain, but you also have a wide space for the pedestrians, and also for the cyclists. You have to separate pedestrians and cyclists because they go at different speeds. This promenade will be fantastic in the richest area of New York. But what’s even more amazing is that it’s in one of the poorest areas of the city. As you can see the neighbours behind me, they don’t even have one street that’s paved. It’s really low income, so no sidewalks, no pavement. So this is really improving their quality of life. When these kids will come to school, they will be more up to their ears and it was really hard.


Karla Quintero: [02:47] The promenade was basically everything they needed in order to be able to get their kids to school in a comfortable way and a happy way and a sustainable way.


Speaker: [02:56] It’s not only a transportation street, it’s also a place where the people could integrate, it’s a social integration area so that’s… I think that’s the most important thing, people could meet here and enjoy with the family, with the friends, and that’s a good thing because it’s a low income area so the only option of these people to have fun is the free time and the public space.


Karla Quintero: [03:15] Pretty much everybody was very eager to talk to us about Ciclovia, about the bicycle lanes, about how much better the city is. They’re very proud.


Speaker: [03:26] [speaking Spanish]


Speaker: [03:32] [speaking Spanish]


Speaker: [03:37] [speaking Spanish]


Speaker: [03:41] [speaking Spanish]


Speaker: [03:46] [speaking Spanish]


Speaker: [03:51] [speaking Spanish]


Speaker: [04:00] [speaking Spanish]


Speaker: [04:03] [speaking Spanish]


Gil Penalosa: [04:26] The linier parks have become also part of the cycle track networks. So there’s a cycle track network throughout the city. When Enrique was Mayor there were over 300 kilometres were built in only three years. That’s about a little over 200 miles.


Aaron Naparstek: [04:41] Gil was a great tour guide. You know there are certain things that he told us over and over again, and one of them that really stuck with me was this idea that, you know, it’s not about funding and budgeting and revenues, making these changes is about political will.


Karla Quintero: [04:56] One thing that was sort of a surprise to me that I didn’t expect to find was that there were a lot of people that are now able to be employed as bike mechanics and as vendors of different various bicycle parts along the different routes, which hadn’t been the case before the bicycle lanes existed.


Speaker: [05:13] [speaking Spanish]


Speaker: [05:33] [speaking Spanish]


Karla Quintero: [05:43] One day we got to have lunch in the luxurious Lasanate, which is the tea zone and that’s this pedestrian zone with some of the best restaurants in the city. We had the pleasure of talking with Bogota’s biggest restaurateur, he was the first advocate, the main advocate, organising business owners in favour of making those areas pedestrian.


Leo Katz: [06:05] Before the cars used to go by and stop in front of each restaurant to leave the clients or even they would park in front, so you can feel the change.


Karla Quintero: [06:17] And how has pedestrianising the street impacted business?


Leo Katz: [06:22] Very positively. It has been amazingly good for us because during night or afternoons people walk on the streets. Before there were cars and now you see people, you see life.


Aaron Naparstek: [06:36] People thought he was crazy. They said he was going to destroy the business on the street, that nobody would be able to get to it anymore because they wouldn’t be able to, you know, drive there. Of course, you know, the complete opposite happened.


Speaker: [06:50] [speaking Spanish]


[music]

Aaron Naparstek: [07:07] Clarence and Karla were rocking out at the Recreovia.


Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [07:11] So there we are, we’re riding around with Gil Penalosa, getting this great tour of Ciclovia. He keeps talking about the Recreovia’s coming up. I was just a bit sceptical because he kept talking it up so much. It was possibly the most fun I’ve ever had outdoors with a group of people in my life.


Aaron Naparstek: [07:26] We met a guy known as Electro Man who’s like a famous, famous Recreovia dancer. Apparently he’s out there every Sunday.


Karla Quintero: [07:35] He is notorious for coming to the classes of the Recreovia and ignoring all the choreography that’s taught by the instructors and doing his own choreography. Every time we referred to it as a large scale street closure event, they would always correct me and say, no, it’s totally more than that, it’s about social integration, it’s about giving people an opportunity to see their city, to know their city and to connect with parts of their city that they would otherwise be isolated from because of the streets.


Aaron Naparstek: [08:05] We’re standing here at a transmillinio bus rapid transit station. We’re on an overpass here where people access the bus line which really is in the middle of this highway, and we spotted this… this kind of remarkable sidewalk area here where it’s just filled with bollards. It’s a… it’s a veritable bollard farm, a bollard fest, a liveable streets gone wild. They tell us that these sidewalks used to be absolutely packed with cars. You can see there are a lot of little garages and these sidewalks were basically a parking lot until… until the bollards came in. And you got to wonder, I mean we’re seeing a lot of things here in Bogota where this is a country with the average per capita income is one-tenth of the income that we have in the United States and in Canada, and they’re able to do so much, you know, detailed urban design and, you know, have such incredibly sleek, modern, sophisticated bus rapid transit system here. It really makes your realise that the issue is priorities and, you know, we have the money in the United States, in New York City to make these kinds of changes and do these kinds of improvements, it’s just a question of are we going to make these kinds of changes into priorities for New York, and they’ve done it here in and it’s really working out.


Karla Quintero: [09:26] We’re here bummed out with Aaron. Aaron, why so blue?


Aaron Naparstek: [09:30] Well Karla, I was riding my bike here in Bogota and my chain broke. But, you know, it’s pretty amazing because we found these guys here and I saw that one of them was sort of fixing his bike and I walked my bike over and they had a whole toolkit, and I asked him if he could fix my bike even though I don’t even speak Spanish, and he understood and he’s fixing the chain right now. It’s amazing. Really nice.

http://transcriptdivas.ca/transcription-canada/

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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