During a recent visit to Colombia to participate in the World Bike Forum in Medellin, I learned some lessons on mobility in Bogotá, many of which have stayed in my mind.
I am convinced that education is a powerful weapon of transformation, so I spoke at a conference and gave several lectures to students of Architecture and Engineering. I also met with technicians of the Mobility Department of the City of Bogotá and spoke directly with users of different modes of transport about their daily mobility experiences in the capital of Colombia. I learned that most people navigating Bogotá combine two or more modes of transport, and feel a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction about their daily movements around the city. This situation is generating problems for their quality of life.
From this experience, I believe that Bogotá needs to prioritize mobility in the public agenda. These are three of the biggest challenges facing the city:
Local authorities and policy makers need to define the city model for Bogotá
With a city model, I mean a definition of what transport mode is the priority. Could Bogotá be a city where pedestrians have priority (like in Barcelona), or a city where cyclists have priority (like in Copenhagen), or a city where public transport is most important (like in Paris), or a city dominated by car transport (like in Atlanta)?
My feeling is that, at present, there is no strategy in the city. Different actions with seemingly no focus are being pursued by the city, resulting in ineffective programmes with few results in improving mobility for people.
One example demonstrates this well. Recently, the city has introduced new buses called SITP (Integral System of Public Transport). However, each day, most of the buses drive empty around the city. The occupation is low and the maintenance cost is high. So what does the city need to do? Improve accessibility to route information? Or impose further restrictions on the use of cars in the city so that buses can drive among reduced congestion?
Implementing ‘push and pull’ measures simultaneously can be beneficial in the promotion of sustainable mobility. Push measures should encourage users out of private vehicles, and pull measures should attract users to sustainable modes of transports. Increasing mobility by sustainable modes, such as organising more buses, is not as effective without applying restrictive measures on car use.
Citizenship education and respect for life
The feeling that I had after riding a bike around Bogotá is that the levels of aggression and intolerance from people in cars, motorcycles, taxis, and buses are high. Perhaps some drivers are so angry and upset with gridlock traffic jams that they want to take another obstacle – the cyclist – off the road. For this reason, road rage is not uncommon, nor is aggressive and unsafe driving around cyclists. The challenge in this instance is to invest in education, and teach respect and tolerance and especially the respect for everybody’s lives.
Separate bicycle paths
To promote bicycle use in the city, adequate infrastructure for bicycles is necessary. This investment cannot be done at the expense of pedestrians. If space is taken from pedestrians, by putting bike paths on sidewalks, it generates unsafe and uncomfortable places for pedestrians.
Many cycle paths in Bogotá are installed on sidewalks. A mobility strategy should put the bicycle back on the main street. The travel speed of a pedestrian is around 5 km/h while a cyclist moves between 15 km/h and 25 km/h. Hence, walking and biking are two different forms of mobility, which involves applying different planning principles. Cycling is closer as an experience to driving a car. Therefore mixing pedestrians with bicycles is as harmful or counterproductive as mixing swimming and rowing in the same pool.
It is important to understand that the solution is not to remove more pedestrian space. The solution is to reduce the space and privileges that private vehicles have.