Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Car-Free Candelaria?

Schoolchildren walk in La Candelaria's
La Concordia district. Pedestrians in La Candelaria,
where they far outnumber car drivers and
deserve priority. 

New Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro has proposed making Seventh Ave. pedestrian-only during the five months-or-so they expect the demolition and rebuilding of the bridge over 26th St. to take.

"Let's find an advantage in the crisis" of the bridge closure, Petro said.

A pedestrian-only block of 10th
Street today.
The loss of the bridge will certainly create a transit crisis for central Bogotá, since Seventh is one of the major arteries - even tho it slows to a crawl during every 'rush hour.' Banning cars from Seventh Ave.  would anger many businesses, but also bring back the long-time tradition of the Septimazo, the closure of the avenue every Friday evening, when it turned into a long street fair. Last year, the city suspended the Septimazo, without warning or explanation that I heard of. Ideally, closing La Septima from Plaza Bolivar to 26th St. would turn the avenue into a permanent Ciclovia, with bicycles, skaters and walkers breathing relatively clean air.

Not very colonial: Cars idling on Carrera 3
in La Candelaria. 
The Seventh Ave. bridge over 26th St.,
already half demolished. 
Closing Seventh would also give a boost to the much-proposed but never realized pedestrianization of the La Candelaria neighborhood, the city's historic center. See references here and here. So far, the city has proceeded with making only 11th St. west of Plaza Bolivar pedestrian-only. Under Mayor Lucho Garzon cars were banned from several blocks of central La Candelaria. Businesses complained, but the policy created an area of peace and tranquility for pedestrians, who comprise the overwhelming majority of the neighborhood's residents and visitors. But the administration of now-imprisoned Mayor Samuel Moreno suspended this policy, also without warning or explanation.

A truck-motorcycle crash this morning in La Candelaria.
It's a wonder that more pedestrians aren't hit. 
Restricting cars makes lots of sense for La Candelaria, a historical neighborhood frequented by students and tourists, most of whom get around on foot and where motor vehicles' noise and pollution scar the historical atmosphere. During much of the day, the racing taxis and other vehicles, which generally ignore stop signs and expect pedestrians to scurry out of their way, endanger people on foot. During rush hours, when the neighborhood's narrow streets are used as a 'shortcut' by drivers coming to and from other areas, the traffic jams make La Candelaria noisy and poison its air.

A pedestrian darts across a congested Seventh Ave.
We also suffer a litany of car horns and car alarms, the drivers seemingly unaware that people might be sleeping at 11 p.m. or midnight. There seems to be a growing habit of drivers preventively honking their horns as they approach each cross street, to warn any oncoming car planning to sail past the stop sign. So drivers protect themselves and their vehicles from other, law-breaking vehicles by keeping neighbors awake. And don't get me started on the motorcyclists who seem to pride themselves on the decibles they can generate.

My fantasy for La Candelaria: Banning all a limited number of buses, delivery vehicles during certain hours and a certain number of vehicles per household for the car-owning minority. Buses and vans belonging to local high schools and universities would be allowed, as perhaps a few city bus lines. And, some arrangement would be made for taxi service, particularly for older and handicapped residents and hotels.

Pedestrians in La Candelaria outnumber car drivers. 

Besides that, there'd be pedicab and a public bicycle service to carry people to transit stations, parking lots and other destinations outside the neighborhood. They should also employ traffic-calming measures like speed bumps and improve security for the increased number of pedestrians. That'd make the neighborhood more sane and calm and more in keeping with its colonial image. It would also reduce the need for parking lots - and provide more space for more productive uses, such as housing, hotels, universities and museums.

Related posts:

Scenes from 'Car-Free' Day

A fender-bender today on Seventh Ave. 

Jimenez and Seventh Aves in La Candelaria, a highly pedestrian area. 

Definitely not car-free today. 

Traffic jam on Seventh Ave., which achieves the worst of all worlds. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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