The Use Of The Bicycle As Transport Is Still Not Strong On The Continent, Which Suffers Without Infrastructure.

Suddenly, in the middle of the morning and with a somewhat inclement sun, a shiny 4×4 beige car, no doubt existential on a bike path located in San Isidro, the richest neighborhood of Lima and all over Peru. My honorable, humble green bike is blocked almost to the last consequence by a motorized and apparently blind mole.

Cycling and the Humanization of Cities1

“Sir, do not you see it’s a bike lane?”

“This… sorry, but I’m waiting for my wife to leave the store selling cycling water bottles made by”

“You can not stop here.”

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I know, but it’s only a minute…

A member of Serenazgo (municipal civil service, unarmed, who collaborates here with public security) is close and comes to my aid. It convinces the driver to leave, when another vehicle-in this case, a red taxi also assaults the space destined, by law, to the cyclists. Finally, the guard surrenders: “Never give a ball”.

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The Last Pedaling

Similar or even worse scenes can be recorded in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, on January 5, two cyclists were attacked with sticks and stones, losing their precious vehicle. In Mexico, about 200 cyclists die every year, especially in the tumultuous city of Mexico.

The problem in this capital has become so tragically customary that Bicitekas, a citizen movement that promotes cycling and records these incidents, tends to place offerings for the comrades killed on the legendary Day of the Dead which is celebrated throughout the country. The crowns placed on the floor, exactly in the form of bicycles, resemble the last pedaling. In Brazil, activists put ghost-bikes, bicycles painted white, where a cyclist lost his life.

The same Mexico, the city of Guadalajara registered, at the end of 2015, six more deaths than last year: 27 cyclists fallen against 21 in 2014. In Medellín, Colombia, cyclists killed in 2014 were 12, according to the Secretariat Of Mobility in this city. Most of them, incredibly, in bicycle lanes (that in that country are called cyclorutas).

In Lima, where cycling trips are not so common, cycling martyrdoms have not been so frequent, but they may increase if we keep quiet in the face of a motorized attack, like what I had to face in San Isidro. In May of 2015, two cyclists were killed while traveling on two wheels. One of the victims, Gladys Pareja, was also a firefighter.

She was first run over by a private car, who ran away, and then a public transportation bus passed over her. The firefighters did not even have the money to transfer the body of the victim to Tingo María, its native land, located in the Peruvian jungle. The life of the urban cyclist in Latin America is, in short, a permanent emergency, the fight against the wind and the elements.

Motorized, of course. According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in a report on Cycloinclusion released last year, 50% of road accidents in the region are involved motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists. The latter do not contribute the largest amount of victims, who are riding by car or motorcycle. But they are (are) perhaps the most ignored.

Almost A Plague

I kid you. A few months ago, a regional organization based in Lima invited me as a journalist to a meeting on climate change. I am happy, on my bicycle, convinced that at the height of politics, even internationally, the idea that the humble creation of the German baron Karl Freiherr von Drais, in the early 19th century, was taking hold.

Good morning, I come to a conference on global warming.

“I’m sorry, but you can not get on the bike, so many diplomats are coming in…”

The problem ended through the intermediary of the organization’s own secretary-general.Months earlier, a similar episode took place at a world body’s headquarters at another climate meeting. Then the same thing happened at a university, which has cans for garbage separation, but-all indications-little ability to distinguish what is sustainable.

Virtually any cyclist in the region could make similar reports. Santiago Mariani, an Argentine political scientist who lives in Lima, and is also a suffering and militant cyclist, rehearses an explanation for such widespread neglect. “In Peru-he says-bicycle use is frowned upon because it is used by the lower class, who can not have a vehicle, as a means of transportation.”

That’s right: if you want to maintain status, if you want to be a Latin American proud of your supposedly prosperous economy these days, you can not ride a bike, you have to have a car. Cities, therefore, are planned with banding, expressways, viaducts, shamrocks in mind. Everything is made to increase geometrically, motor vehicles.

The IDB is back in action and proposes the following: “For urban cycle routes to be a viable option, they must make a network with extensive connections, both with each other and with public transportation.” In other words, integration is the way. If the bike wants to conquer its space, with force and right, it is necessary to be part of the road network as a whole.

Do not be an exception. According to a document titled Biciciudades, developed by researchers at American University and members of the Initiative for Emerging and Sustainable Cities (ICES, also promoted by the IDB), for this to work-in cities like Sao Paulo, Santiago and Mexico-authorities have begun To restrict the use of cars.

Two Or Four Wheels?

In Bogota also it is done appealing to the number of the plate, as in São Paulo. But, of course, there are resistances. In Mexico City, those affected opted to buy more cars to escape the restriction and in the name, supposedly, of freedom. At the height of motorized vandalism, anonymous commands attacked a cycle station in the megacity district Benito Juárez.

They put up menacing posters in defense of the car parks and even filled up part of the place for cyclists with excrement. It happened on the cowardly dawn of February 17, 2015, in the heat of a debate that slowly settles in the public atmosphere and tries to answer the question of what we can do with our uncontrollable cities.

Fill them with more cars requiring more lanes and avenues? The IDB, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and a few Latin American municipalities have come to the conclusion that no, the only salvation for the crazed megalopolis is to make transportation intermodality the last hope.

Along this path, the humble bike plays a central role, despite the febrile reactions of some crazy drivers. Currently, throughout the region there are 2,513 kilometers of cycle paths, according to the IDB. The longest network is in Bogota, which is 392 km long, although some parts need to be traced almost archaeologically.

They date from the first mandate like mayor of Antas Mockus (1995-1998), that was a great promoter of the bicycle, saga that continued other mayors like Enrique Peñalosa.Crossing dangerous neighborhoods, as part of the locality of Santa Fe, and by more comfortable areas, something that this journalist could verify thanks to a bicycle tour through this Andean city.

The second largest bicycle route network is in Rio de Janeiro, where there are 307 kilometers, which carry 3.2% of the population daily (in Bogota, 5%). But the city that receives cyclist applause all over the region is Rosario, the third most populous city in Argentina, where 5.3% of its nearly one million people walk on two wheels.

Not A Pedal Behind

Not much compared to Amsterdam where 40% of the population moves in the modest but dedicated and clean vehicle, marking a trend that may slowly be increasing. Especially considering that Latin American cities can no longer withstand the disease of cars that invade lanes, cities and even bike paths.

According to the IDB, for cycling to occur, it is necessary to combine four factors, which are like pieces for urban cycling to mobilize: infrastructure and services, regulatory aspects and regulation, citizen participation And operation (management and control of intermodality). None of them can, let’s say, stop pedaling.

The first, of course, is to create special bicycle lanes. Be separated (marked with paint on a strip or physical separators), shared with cars or special (those that are only for bicycles). But also service stations, repair and assistance, like those that were destroyed by some fanatics in Mexico City.

On the normative side, clear legislation is needed for the cyclist contingent, which users must know, not to commit – at the same time – atrocities. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, it is not allowed to take someone else in the modest two-wheeled vehicle. The fundamental idea, however, is that the bicycle is not at such a obvious disadvantage.

That is, it is clear that you can not invade bike paths with impunity, or crush any cyclist without mercy, because it is disturbing the traffic. Laura Bahamón, a Bogota cycling activist, argues that only the difference in speed between a car and a bicycle is already a problem and greatly increases the risk of accidents.

In fact, participation is essential for all of this to take place. Moreover, without the help of almost heroic urban cyclist movements, probably none of this would be discussed. People on bikes from Uruguay, Bicitekas from Mexico, Cicloaxiondo Peru, Ciclaramanga from Bucaramanga (Colombia), Ciclocidade, in Brazil, among other groups, are in the battle.

The Future That Runs

It is no exaggeration to argue that cyclists are in a fight. Daily, misunderstood, difficult.Even with victims. Marc Augé, a French anthropologist devoted to cycling, says that “cycling is a humanism”. It transforms cities by making them more breathable, people giving back their sense of play, societies putting them closer to reality.

Because, at the end of the journey, all this is done to benefit the body, the mind and the global ecosystem, not only in Latin America. In Lima, place of my fights, only 0.3% of the daily trips are made by bicycle. It is one of the lowest percentages of the region, although the city is flat, it rains very little and it does not cost much to have one.

-Sir, you stopped on a bike path.

-Just a minute…

This time we are three cyclists who question the invader. We are not alone and we know that perhaps the only revolution that Latin America can afford today is that of the bicycle.