I lived in Bogotá, Colombia, for about half of 2002. While I was there, a political party headquarters near my house was car-bombed, guerrillas attacked the presidential inauguration, and thousands of people were killed in routine violence. It was a stressful place to live.
Adding to that stress was the speed and chaos of traffic. Every taxi ride I survived was a minor miracle.
And then there was Sunday.
Sundays and holidays, 75 miles of major roads — normally choked with diesel-powered kamikaze vehicles weaving in and out of lanes in a cacophony of car horns — were closed to motor vehicle traffic for the ciclovía. Filling the void were families walking dogs, teenagers on skateboards, couples on bikes, and one freaked-out gringa who finally found a place in Bogotá she could breathe. Those car-free rides saved me.
Mayor Enrique Peñalosa didn’t start the ciclovía but he expanded it and made it a vibrant, exciting activity enjoyed by two million people every week. He flatly rejected the argument that it wasn’t worth building bicycle infrastructure for the tiny fraction of Bogotanos who rode, knowing that “if you build it, they will ride.”
In a TED talk posted yesterday (but filmed in September), Peñalosa pushes the boundaries of what most people think is possible in a city. Reserve every other street for transit, bikes, and pedestrians? Dedicate bus-only lanes in dense, congested cities? It’s not only possible, Peñalosa says, it’s also necessary for a healthy democracy. If you’ve never seen this man speak, do yourself a favor and spend 14 minutes with him in this TED talk.
In the talk, Peñalosa asserts that “an advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but one where even the rich use public transport.”