Ciclovía: A Moving Experience in Bogotá, Colombia

 


 


 

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel with comrades Karla Quintero of Transportation Alternatives and Streetsblog editor Aaron Naparstek to Bogotá, Colombia to document some of the amazing advances going on in the livable streets movement there. We spent an entire Sunday, from 5am ’til nearly 5pm, riding bicycles around during Ciclovía, a weekly event in which over 70 miles of city streets are closed to traffic and opened to walking, biking, running, skating, recreating, picnicking, and talking with family, neighbors and strangers. Ciclovía was simply one of the most moving experiences I have had in my entire life (no pun intended).

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, he is 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 mic and shows she has some hot dance moves too. I think we came up with something very special and fun that will hopefully support and propel this movement forward in U.S. cities.

Read more of Clarence’s thoughts on Ciclovía here.

  • momos

    WOW Clarence, this is awesome!!!!

    The point that stands out most to me is how Ciclovia fosters social relationships. This is one of the things I love most about organized rides in NYC… getting to know other people in the city. A city is a collection of people, and what a waste it is to never get to know them.

    Imagine a Ciclovia in NYC, every Sunday, from the Bronx to Harlem to Queens to the Village to Brooklyn & Staten Island, and imagine all the diversity of people out exercising and enjoying their city together.

  • Dave H.

    Do any residents or businesses complain about being cut off from their cars/customers for the day?

  • Larry Littlefield

    How about Broadway all weekends this summer, one end to the other? Bikes down the center, more room for peds and other street activities down the side.

  • We didn’t hear that complaint.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    I wonder if the claim by the one guy towards the end that “the city is becoming more tolerant” can be proven with some stats.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there are some statistically significant findings that can prove that crime in the city has dropped since the start of the program?
    If so, this would put another notch in the old claim that bicycling can save the world; one that I never would have thought possible.

  • Eric

    Do they do this seasonally, or is it year-round? What’s the climate like in Bogota?

  • mfs

    It’s 60 degrees year round in Bogotá- 9,000 feet high and a few degrees above the equator so they just have a rainy & dry season.

    A big thing to understand about ciclovía and cycle politics in Bogotá is that the vast, vast majority of people do not have cars, so biking as an alternative transport mode is a very politically popular argument. Plus the city is pretty much shut down on Sundays (relatively speaking for a metropolis of 9 million people), so there’s not much to disrupt.

    Most people commute via crappy private buses called busetas that go everywhere in the city, but stop randomly to let people on and off (even in the middle or left lanes). They cost about 50 cents a ride, which is even too much for many folks.

    “Fun” fact: Bogotá used to have an awesome trolley network, but a clique of partisans/thugs took all the trolley cars and torched them in the central square one night in the 1950s.

  • mfs

    Two things I forgot:

    They also do Ciclovía on holiday Mondays, which they have a bunch more than us.

    And the immense number of people they hire to run Ciclovía is only made possible by the pretty low cost of labor in Colombia. They are able to do a bunch more landscaping and physical upkeep of public space b/c the typical wages are something like US$1-2 an hour.

  • Clarence

    Andy B:

    Although I have no direct numbers to back it up, many people talked about how the city is much safer and most of the time while I was walking around it felt kind of like NYC.

    On a number of places on the web it does cite that crime in the city has been going down since the late 90s.

  • Clarence

    And by “kind of like NYC” I meant the feel of the city and in many ways the layout, the business district, the outer boros, etc. But I would still say that NYC is far safer then Bogota. Then again I would say that about NYC in comparison to any city.

  • mfs

    When they say “safer” people are mostly talking about when the civil war came to the city in the 1980s and 1990s. The upper and upper-middle classes were frequently targets of kidnapping for ransom and political reasons and there were car bombs throughout the city.

    And I agree with Clarence, it definitely has an NYC feel, much unlike other Latin American cities.

  • Though, Karla’s dad was mugged at gunpoint outside our hotel, so there’s still some crime there.

  • Mitch

    “Fun” fact: Bogotá used to have an awesome trolley network, but a clique of partisans/thugs took all the trolley cars and torched them in the central square one night in the 1950s.

    Why?

    I don’t suppose they were working for GM…?

  • Clarence

    Just so everyone knows, Portland, Ore. is going to hold their first Ciclovia in June! I’ll be out covering.

    Much more info on the great blog:

    http://bikeportland.org/2007/11/29/pdot-shares-latest-parkways-plans/

  • Eric

    Great film and a great example for NYC as to what can happen when street space is reallocated. Mostly it just looks like fun.

    mfs, thanks for the geography/climatology lesson.

  • Joe Hultquist

    This is truly wonderful and inspiring. I was able to participate in Bridgepedal in Portland for the first time this August, and was blown away by it (in spite of the congestion on the second bridge – Ross Island?).

    This takes it to another level, and I’m not surprised to read in the comments that Portland is going to have what is probably the first Ciclovia in the States.

    I’m hopeful that Knoxville will be able to do something like this in the near future. Thank you so much for producing this inspirational video.

    Joe Hultquist
    1st District City Councilman
    Knoxville, TN

  • Elisabeth

    Is there any way of getting a copy of this or being able to burn it on a CD so that we can take it around to our communities without haveing to be hooked up to the internet?

    Please advise

  • Clarence

    Elisabeth,

    Hey, StreetFilms makes their films available to groups or individuals worldwide for free on DVD to use for advocacy and enlightenment. Just send an email to info@streetFilms.org with you address and we’ll get one in the mail to you.

    Thanks for the interest. Our site is being re-done and we will have a sheet folks can fill out to better request our DVDs, until then a simple email will do.

  • I think the socialization aspect of people mixing and walking, jogging and cycling together fills many human needs. When this is done family style it leaves a crucially important impression on our youth of the fun and importance of this exercise. In the North there are fewer opportunities to enjoy this for about six months of the year. At the HampshireDome in Milford, NH, USA they use multi surface types and lanes to walk, run, rollerski, rollerblade/rollerskate, bike, etc., and socialize indoors in comfort all winter long. It has proven a very effective solution to inactivity and winter boredom. Check out the website HampshireDome.com

  • Andrea

    I remember this from when I lived there in 1988 when one (very long) street was closed (Septima?). It was fantastic! I think the stores got more business since everyone was out and about not whizzing by on busses & in cars.

    I was also impressed that Cambridge,MA closed the river road (?) on Sundays for recreation when I lived there. don’t know if they still do.

  • RAE

    Ottawa, Canada’s capital, closes 65 km of parkways (roads running along the Rideau Canal and the rivers) to traffic every Sunday from May 1st to September 1st. I won’t say it’s as lively as the Columbian example, but it can get quite packed with cyclists, roller bladers, walkers and runners.

  • If NYC, Washington D.C., or Charlotte, NC had something like this once a month, I’d go there just to be a part of it. Events like Ciclovia should happen everywhere and I think it’s a great way to see, know, and love your city and your friends and family in classic social-networking style!

    I’m going to try to spread the word! Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  • María

    It is very nice hearing that my City can become an example and an inspiration for other cities around the world.

    Regarding some of your comments I would like to say that Ciclovia can actually trouble the traffic sometimes, but this is a cost that we need to afford in order to been able to enjoy this space.

    I also would like to share, that besides the Ciclovia program which is been in place for more than 20 years now; Bogotá “recently” implemented the Cicloruta program by assigning special roads for biking. These roads are operating every day and makes possible for a lot of people to move from work to home and vice versa.

  • David Loutzenheiser

    Would that be Oscar Diaz being interviewed in several clips? He was very kind to take me on the Cyclovia last year. A fantastic program indeed, not only the closure of streets but all the other activities that are provided along with the programs.

    Here in Cambridge MA, yes we still close Memorial Dr along the river on Sundays, but on some days can be fairly quiet without the other ancillary activities that Bogota provides.

  • Sara

    As a cyclist, I love the idea of not dodging cars on major city streets. But like the comment below, I wonder how local business owners will feel about this, and who be outraged.

  • Hilary

    Massachusetts is fortunate to have a DOT whose motto is “A parkway is a park with a road through it.” Thanks to their Historic Roads Initiative, parkways like Memorial Drive are designed and appreciated as an integral part of the waterfront. Beautiful bridges, appropriate guardrails, Sundays for pleasure riding… just like the Bronx River Parkway in Westchester County.

  • You did an outstanding job showcasing this amazing weekly event. We were just there too. The Christmas nighttime 6pm to 12am Ciclovia is also something to experience with laser and fireworks and lights….. Lots of folks have been wondering what Ciclovia feels and looks like and you added that essential ingredient!

    Thanks!
    Greg

  • Lynnea

    This is great, we would love something like this in London, and I think it would work so well in the summer months. It’s not that hard to do, because the roads are dead on Sunday’s anyway, so it’s prime opportunity to get people out and about, and because we have so many huge parks, we could hold excercise classes there, or have huge fitness stalls to get people going, give away bikes, repair bikes and sell other sporting goods. This is the way forward! Well done to Bogota for setting such a wonderful example and having such and inovative idea!

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Just want to say thanks for all the positive feedback here and at StreetFilms – well over 10K have watched in such a short time. I want to put this out there: we do make this available on DVD to any communities that want to try to push for this in their city. Just email info@streetfilms.org with an address and we will get one in the mail to you. We have already had dozens of requests for it.

  • andrea

    i´m from colombia!!!…..this is great. thanks for interest, my country is beautifull…i love to be here…

    thanks
    andrea

  • Mark Stonehill

    Clarence, we LOVE your films! I show them to my friends and they give big smile. Keep up the good work! It is MUCH appreciated.

    Best,
    Mark (the TA intern from 2 summers ago)

  • Bill

    “When they say “safer” people are mostly talking about when the civil war came to the city in the 1980s and 1990s. The upper and upper-middle classes were frequently targets of kidnapping for ransom and political reasons and there were car bombs throughout the city.”

    Hardly any of the several thousand homicides that Bogota suffered around that time were political or to do with the ‘civil war’. They were more related to this:

    “Though, Karla’s dad was mugged at gunpoint outside our hotel, so there’s still some crime there.”

  • Fantastic. Only ever hear bad things about Columbia on UK news. Miles ahead of us with Ciclovia – maybe Mayor Livingstone might do it in London though! A really moving happy video.

  • Mauricio

    Also a Colombian from Bogota here.

    Thanks very much for the video. It’s very inspiring to watch the ciclovia even as you drive by it. The convergence of so many people from all walks of life is a testament to the modern and creative path Bogota has taken to set itself apart from the rest of the world. We may not have the most impressive, massive architecture, but the very idea of a ciclovia draws smiles and small nods of approval from foreigners, and people who see it are awed and stop to ponder the simple pleasures of life that this initiative promotes. No need for titanic and symbolic structures, this is designed for the masses, and the people make it what it is.

  • isabella

    in paris the bank road of the river seine are closed for car every sunday, we also have a very big free bike program. try it if you are there. it is name ,velolib, . i am going to bogota in 2 weeks. i wil try to rent a bike. bye

  • Mauricio

    We pepole from Bogota are lucky that the ciclovia has become part of our culture. It was implemented more than 15 years ago and it was a success from the first day. Drivers are discouraged to use their cars and prefer to go by public transport or even better, by bycicle with their families! I think the layout of the roads in Bogota are perfect for ciclovias, with a couple of lanes dedicated to it, and parallel lanes dedicated to normal traffic (most of the main roads in Bogota have four lanes separated by a concrete small barrier). Some other great unusual ideas that make Bogota unique are the Transmilenio bus system and the ‘day without car’ (dia de no carro) that takes place about once a year, when it is banned the use of cars at peak hours and most people take public transport or bycicle to their places of work. It is quite a fun day actually. You american and european guys will be surprised of what Bogota has to offer!!

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