[21] Bogota – From Refugee Hell to Cycling Paradise

As mentioned before, Bogota gained international status thanks to its innovative urban mobility system, formed by the busses of Transmilenio; which was not a coincidence, but the result of a well-chosen strategy.

 

The capital of Colombia suffered an utmost violent past; which mayor Enrique Peñalos answered firm in the 1990s. Besides being back in the office at the moment of speaking, Peñalos governed Bogotá between 1994 and 2000, and was rewarded internationally for its efforts regarding the mobility of the city.

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According to his vision, pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation should gain priority on private cars. The Transmilenio was the flagship that Peñalos sold abroad, and therefore created an image of Bogotá as innovative and sustainable city.

 

Times Change

However, times change, and so did the mobility in Bogotá. The population grew explosive. Out of all parts of the country Colombians flee to the capital, looking for jobs, but most for safety. The civil war between the guerrillas and the government mainly took place in the rural zones, hence destroyed houses, lives and the fields used for agriculture, making them flee to the capital.

Recently the government of Colombia negotiated a peace treaty with the government and the biggest guerrilla group, the FARC, finally ending one of the longest, if not the longest, civil wars in recent history. Nowadays initiatives are set up to stop the exodus towards the city and even to initiate the reverse movement, back to the countryside. Nevertheless, this dynamics are to recent to predict the consequences of the peace treaty on the city development.

 

Red Devils

Today Bogotá houses more than ten million inhabitants, the once honoured public transport system lost lots of its honour. Many Bogotans laugh or roll the eyes when it comes to the Transmilenio.

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Despites covering a huge part of the city, never getting stuck in traffic jams because of their reserved bus lanes, and driving at democratic prices (less than a dollar for a ride), the red busses are considered red devils. The capacity is not sufficient, and the time schedules are not reliable, causing people to push the waiting mass to squeeze them in the bus like a bunch of sardines.

That is the actual situation, however the Transmilenio and public transport in general, is not supposed to be left behind. The 21st century brought a Transmilenio application, with bus hours and routes, and 1 electric bus, a pilot project. It is supposed to be the first electric Transmilenio bus, but certainly not the last, according to the city administration. Nevertheless, different sources do not have a lot of faith in the next electric busses to come, nor in a sustainable future for the Transmilenio.

 

Cycle Paradise

In the meantime, cars own the road in Bogotá, except for the Transmilenio bus lanes. Bike lanes on the other hand take a bite of the cake as well. Actually, I am surprised how many cyclists find their way through the congested city centre. Next to them are the pedestrians finding their way on pedestrian lanes, however not everywhere of the best quality.

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The Walhalla for both cyclists and pedestrians comes every Sunday when a couple of broad avenues over whole the city – and in other Colombian cities – are turned into Ciclovias[bike roads]. Hundreds of pedestrians, skaters, cyclists and runners take one side of the street, while busses and cars are pushed to the other side.

 

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Eventually, Bogota, as other Colombian cities, has a huge history of violence and drugs, nevertheless they are fighting to get rid of that image. Several cities have positioned themselves in a transition, between the past of guerrillasand narcosand the future of innovation and sustainability. Some cities are further ahead than others, but in all of them something is going on. Even though some might only be taking small steps which are definitely not sufficient to solve it all, at least there is a rising awareness of the urgency to act.

[An awareness which is very high in Ecuador, but that’s for the following post].

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