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MEXICO: Cyclists Speed Up Transportation Changes

Diego Cevallos* - Tierramérica

MEXICO CITY, Nov 10 2008 (IPS) - Cyclists in the Mexican capital who pedal nude once a year and organise tours through the city have overcome the suspicions of city officials and are now participating in designing plans to benefit this environmentally-friendly mode of transportation.

Cycling needs urban infrastructure.  Credit: Public domain

Cycling needs urban infrastructure. Credit: Public domain

Since September, representatives of the non-governmental organisation Bicitekas have been meeting every two weeks with 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, to design the plans.

The goal is to create bigger and better spaces for bicycling in a city with 10,200 kilometres 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 km of bikeways (compared to 80 km today), boosting the use of bicycles, which today is a dangerous activity accounting for 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, areas where one would need to pay to circulate in a car, and sites for renting and storing non-motorised vehicles.

“The city government has finally 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 fact that the Sunday municipal programme known as “Muévete en Bici” (Ride Your Bike), replication of a 30-year-old initiative in Bogotá, won the “Active Cities, Healthy Cities” award sponsored by the Pan-American Health Organisation, on Oct. 29.

The programme “helps motivate people,” said the activist, who added that the important thing is to change society so that the bicycle becomes a central element in the new plans for urban transportation, because it is clean, fast and enjoyable.

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 programme involves closing 10 km of the city’s central roadways to automobiles on Sundays, freeing them up for cyclists, skaters and walkers. Once a month the street closure 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 programmes have suffered delays, 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, local authorities announced that they would begin to set aside 60 km of bikeways. But so far nothing has been done.

The official goal is for five percent of travel in the city to be on bicycle, within 10 years.

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

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

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

Treviño said that in December there will be special lanes for bicycles along a 14.9-km stretch of the central Reforma Avenue, 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 organise city bike tours: on Thursdays the Lobos-bike route, on Fridays the Lunáticos cyclists, Saturdays the Biciellas, and Sunday’s the Biciraptors, Biciperros and Paseo del Gato.

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

(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.)

 
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