Sunday’s Ciclovia: What Bogota can teach us about cycling and community
On a crisp, clear Sunday morning, the Séptima is filled with Bogotanos. Normally one of the most congested roads in downtown Bogotá, every Sunday the avenue clears of cars to make space for citizens. The street fills with pedestrians and joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists. Street vendors pop up selling jewelry, smoothies, trading cards and arepas. This Sunday phenomenon called Ciclovía is one of Bogota’s most famous urban policies and has now been replicated in over 57 cities around the world. The weekly Ciclovía initiative, along with over 375 kilometers of ciclorutas, has helped push Bogota to the 3rd ranking bicycle-friendly cities in the world.
The Ciclovia experiment dates from the 1970s with the establishment of a far more limited network. Bogota’s Ciclovía criss-crosses major city arterials to create a network totaling 121 kilometers. City hall estimates that between 600,000 and 1.4mil people participate in the experiment each week, biking, roller-skating and walking or jogging. Inty David Lopez Gonzalez, who works at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies, describes Ciclovía as a meeting place for friends that is unique from a bar or restaurant since it only happens once a week. “It is completely different from what you would normally do with your friends,” says Gonzalez. In addition to simply closing down roads, the city government further promotes physical fitness with free Zumba classes, bicycling riding clinics and roadside bicycle repair booths.
The Ciclovía has been a net fiscal positive investment for the city government. The urban intervention costs the Bogotá city hall an annual USD1.7 mil but every dollar spent – both by the city and by individuals -, results in an estimated annual net savings in health costs between three and four dollars per person. However, although many residents view Ciclovía as a net positive for the city, Claudia Sandoval, a regular Ciclovia participant offers some constructive criticism: “Because half of the the Séptima is still open to buses, the smog pollution negatively impacts those trying to exercise on the Ciclovía portion.” Sandoval’s critique points to the balance the city must strike between pedestrianizing public space and facilitating traffic on one of the city’s busiest avenues.
Bogotá’s passion for cycling isn’t just limited to Sundays. The city’s cyclists make daily use of 376 kilometers of ciclorutas (separated bike lanes) to get around the city. Ciclorutas are distinct from typical bike lanes. Instead of carving out road space for bicycles – which forces cyclists to compete with cars for space -, ciclorutas are instead built into the sidewalk to create a safer route for bicycle riders. While the Ciclovía is an intervention to promote public space and leisure for Bogotá’s residents, the ciclorutas instead cater to utilitarian purposes for bicycling—running errands or traveling to work. Ciclorutas integrate with the existing mass transit system, the Transmilenio, with bicycle storage stations at Transmilenio portals (cicloparqueaderos).
The cicloruta network expanded by more than 200% between 2009 and 2013, increasing from 121 kilometers to 376. The city government is however behind on hitting targets for expansion. Between 2012 and 2013, only 2.5 kilometers of routes were added in comparison with a target goal of 145 km for completion by the end of 2014.
Investments in bicycling infrastructure in Bogotá have helped raise rates of bicycling in the city: less than 1% of residents ranked bicycling as their primary mode of transportation in the early 2000s while most recent surveys show that 5% of Bogotanos now rely on a bicycle to get around. Despite the relatively lower modal share of cycling in Bogotá, the characteristics of bicyclists in the city demonstrate the positive impact of cycling. Of those who rank cycling as their primary mode of transportation, 84% described themselves as satisfied with using a bike to get around (see my previous article about Bogota’s Transmilenio for a report on local citizens relative satisfaction rates with other forms of transportation). Furthermore, bicycling seems to draw from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in Bogotá: the majority of those who use the ciclorutas are from the lowest two socioeconomic strata in the city, while 92% of regular Ciclovía participants have low to middle-class backgrounds (strata 1-4 on a scale of 6). Furthermore, a majority of both cicloruta and ciclovía participants do not own cars, indicating that the bicycle is an important stand-in for transportation needs.
Bogotá infatuation with cycling culture continues to grow with new government programs and private initiatives. Already the city is offering free bike rentals in the central business district, on the pedestrianized Séptima: users need only to offer proof of identification and fill out a form to take a free yellow bike around the city center. Bogotá also has plans to invest in a city-wide bike sharing program similar to those implemented in Paris and Washington, DC. Other private initiatives like Mejor en Bici advocate for bicycle use in the city by offering private bike sharing programs (used by local universities) and fund education programs about cycling around the city. And in early September, the city hosted the Bicycle Film Festival (modeled after others around the world), bringing short films and features about cycling around the world to promote bicycling culture in the city. Lopez Gonzalez notes that Bogotá has shown that “the city doesn’t need cars anymore. People can walk or move without a car.” With a wide range of public and private investments, Bogotá claims its place as leader among cities in the developing world for a bike-friendly urban environment.