This is the third in a series of reports about sustainable transportation policies in Mexico City. Last week, Streetsblog participated in a tour of the city led by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Previous installments covered pedestrian improvements and the city’s new bus rapid transit system.
Mexico City never had much of a reputation as a bicycle city. Traffic is terribly congested and extremely dangerous — drivers don’t even have to take an eye exam to get a license — and until recently, the air was thick with smog no one hoped to inhale too deeply.
Under the leadership of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, however, Mexico City is taking a multi-pronged approach toward becoming bike-friendly, making changes to its streets, its laws and its culture. Most important has been the introduction of a new bike-share system, Ecobici, that’s expanding rapidly.
In 2007, when Ebrard began a concerted effort to improve cycling, half of all trips were less than eight kilometers long, yet only one percent of trips were made by bike. The city resolved to boost cycling to five percent of all trips in just five years. Mexico City has made big strides under Ebrard but will probably need more time to hit the initial five-year target. Today bicycle mode-share is between two and three percent of trips, according to ITDP.
At the center of the city’s effort is Ecobici, which launched two years ago. A public bike-sharing system funded mainly by the government, Ecobici offers 1,200 bikes at 90 stations, making it comparable in scope to Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare but far smaller, for the time being, than systems in London and Paris.
As of today the system can only be found in the trendy Condesa neighborhood, which is often compared to New York City’s Soho. Even limited to one neighborhood, however, demand is sky-high. To ensure quality service for the 30,000 current members, Ecobici has had to set up a waiting list for new subscribers. Otherwise there just wouldn’t be enough bikes to go around, explained Ivan De La Lanza, coordinator of Mexico City’s bicycle mobility strategy. Each bike is already being taken out an average of 10 times per day.
Though Ecobici is only available in a single neighborhood, a full 40 percent of new cyclists in the city use the system, said De La Lanza. It also may be encouraging others to get on their bikes more. According to Good magazine, the use of personal bikes rose 50 percent in the year that Ecobici opened.
This year, the system is set for not one but two major expansions. In June, the service area will spread east, into the Roma neighborhood and Mexico City’s historical downtown. Then in November, Ecobici will move west, surrounding the Bosque Chapultepec — Mexico City’s equivalent of Central Park — and expanding into the business-oriented Polanco area. Membership is expected to skyrocket to between 73,000 and 100,000 users, according to Ecobici official Oscar Montiel.