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Bogota – a good cycling city?

Michael O'Hare - September 13, 2009

Have you wondered why some cities have large numbers of people cycling and others don’t?

Is it the climate? Something in the local psyche?  Or simply chance?

I don’t think so. I think it is mostly about design. Bogota, the capital of Colombia,  gives a nice example of a city that tried to design for bicycles and bicyclists.

Can we learn from Bogota’s experience?

From Cars to People, Buses and Bicycles

“A citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important to one in a $30,000 car”, declares Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota.

When Mr. Penalosa became mayor in 1998, plans for a new $15 billion highway system were given to him. He discarded them and spent money on pedestrianised streets, buses and parks. And lots and lots and lots of cycle paths – 300 km worth – which people started to use.

Here are 3 steps they took that I think helped them build a bicycling culture:

Bicycling in Bogota – 3 steps to success

1. Build Bicycle Paths

A great bicycle path network makes it easy and safe for anyone to use, young or old. Cycle paths can come in all shapes and sizes – what kind is best? I guess it depends, but I like this useful guide from Enrique Penalosa, “A bicycle way that is not safe for an 8-year old is not a bicycle way”.

Below’s an example of one of Bogota’s cycle paths. What do you think of it?

Ciycle Paths in Bogota

2. Build other Bicycling Infrastructure

It’s not just about kilometers and miles of cycle roads.  Who will use them? How will they be used? Can they be used?

A cycle path that goes from nowhere to nowhere probably won’t be used as much as a well connected, integrated system.

In Bogota, a special emphasis was put on connecting the cycle paths to their bus rapid transit system, Transmilenio. For example they installed free, convenient and secure cycle storage facilities near major bus terminals:

Bicycle in Bogota

I like that the storage facilities make cycling easy for everyday activities, like taking quick public transport into the city.

3. Inspire – Make it Fun!

Ciclovia happens once a week in Bogota, every Sunday between 7am and 2pm. 120km of roads are shut to cars and opened up to cyclists, walkers and people to enjoy. It’s fun, with around 30% of locals, or 2 million people, taking part. Take a look at this short video from Streetfilms to if you want a flavour of people enjoying themselves on the streets of Bogota:

Maybe Ciclovia isn’t for every city, but are there other ways to make cycling fun in your city?

What do you think of the 3 steps to cycling success? Have you any other ideas?

11 Comments »

  1. It’s all relative – Bogotá has the region’s largest network of bicycle paths, altho lots of them are lacking. It also has the wonderful Sunday Ciclovia. Still, there’s lots more they could do, including clean up the air and tame the traffic.

    I have a bike rental and bicycle tour company here, so I ride the city every day. For more info and commentary on bicycling in Bogota, see:
    Mike’s Bogota Bike Blog

    Best,

    Mike / Bogota Bike Tours

    Comment by Bogota Bike Tours — November 22, 2009 @ 3:27 am

  2. Thanks for your very interesting comments. I went to Architecture School in Bogota and now work in the US, and I just came back from Bogota after 10 years of absence. It is really amazing the tranformation of the urban environment more sensible to the working masses. The new examples of architecture are worth the trip down there to understand the great solutions improving the developing city with so many people living in proverty.

    Comment by table pads — February 17, 2010 @ 5:18 am

  3. It’s always good to find positive articles about my country. However, I kindly ask you to make a correction, is not Columbia, is Colombia.

    Comment by Carolina — March 8, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

  4. Thanks Carolina, I’ve corrected it. And sorry for the delayed response, I’ve been on holiday and away from internet access.

    Comment by Michael O'Hare — March 14, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

  5. As part of the program for urban development, there are 120 kilometers of safe bicycle routes within the city of Bogotá. Some of the bicycle paths are located next to the main roads and secondary streets as well as passing through parks and touristic points of interest.

    Our bike tours are the best in all of Bogotá for two reasons. First, we’ve spent many hours on our bikes developing interesting routs between three areas at the city: Downtown, North and West of Bogotá. Second, we have a beautiful fleet of cruiser bicycles, also known as beach cruisers, which combine a comfort and expressive styling. Furthermore, all of our tours include a full water bottle.

    For more info: http://www.discovermycolombia.com/page/bike-tours-1

    Comment by Discover my Colombia — May 2, 2010 @ 3:29 am

  6. Bogota is one of the most extensive bicycle path networks in the world. It covers over 211 miles (340 km) and connects citizens to major BRT routes, parks, and community centers. I think that Bogotá is high-altitude and maxes out at 18°C.

    Comment by Association Property Management — October 13, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

  7. I have been travelling to Bogota since the mid-90s and have been living here since 2012. The city did improve dramatically with the administration of mayors such as Peñalosa, but these good governance policies were not continued by subsequent mayors and the city is quickly becoming unlivable. Housing prices, traffic congestion, crime and pollution are out of control. City planning seems to be non-existent. The Transmilenio public transit system was a great idea and could still be successful, but it has not been expanded and private interests and corruption have set it back several years. The theoretical sustainability benefits of population density could be tested in Bogota, but unless there is the political will to make a dramatic improvement in public transit (preferably with clean buses) this city will not advance in social, economic and environmental terms. Crime, inequality and pollution are all increasing. Bogota is an example of what not to do. Apathy and consumerism are destroying this city.

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