Saturday, June 2, 2012

Will Bogotá Get on Track?

Cars in central Bogotá. Private cars,
often carrying only on person,
take up most of the space on Bogotá's streets.

Mayor Petro's ambitious transit blueprint will dust off a mode which Bogotá hasn't seen for a long, long time: Trains.

Trolleys and streetcars have played a big role in Bogotá's history, but today the only train that operates in Bogotá is the vintage tourist train which carries holidayers to and from Zipaquira on weekends and holidays.

Work on the Museo Nacional TransMilenio station,
supposed to open for operation early next year.
A light rail line along La Septima would be
the continuation of this TM line. 
Petro's plan puts a streetcar on Seventh Ave., another train on the projected Longitudinal Avenue of the West (ALO) and two more on avenues crossing the city. Then, of course, it also includes a subway line making a loop thru central Bogotá. Then, there also two new TransMilenio lines and a pair of cable cars serving poor neighborhoods in south Bogotá.

If the plan actually gets completed, the city will be encircled by passenger rail lines.

Of all those projects, the streetcar, or Tranvia, on Ave. Septima has generated the most controversy. Critics say a light rail would only carry a few thousand people per hour - far less than a subway line, or the corridor's commuter flow. Under that reasoning, light rail will do wonders to turn Ave. Septima -which passes by many of the city's most important landmarks - from a chaotic, polluted mess to an orderly, pleasant and efficient avenue. The city also has a grand plan to turn the avenue into a 'green corridor' complete with electric buses and facelifts all along its route. But a light rail won't come close to handling La Septima's future passenger demand.
Progress: Ave. Septima's bridge over
Calle 26 is supposed to be done within a few weeks.

Still, thousands of passengers per hour is substantial. And a streetcar has the advantage of attracting higher-income commuters who would be reluctant to get onto a bus or even a subway.

These projects - if they're actually built - will move bogotanos faster across the city. But don't expect them to solve the city's traffic congestion or pollution nightmares. By a decade from now, when much of this infrastructure may have been completed, a million additional private cars will have flooded the city.

That is the real transit crisis facing the city. And without strong measures, such as a congestion charge and fines for single passenger vehicles, the city's transit faces collapse with or without new rail lines.
TransMilenio buses pass a traffic jam on Carrera 30,
near Palo Quemao market. Unless the city takes
strong measures about exploding private car use,
it'll turn into one big traffic jam. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


mauricio forero l said...

In any case, I'm so happy with the way my city is making changes or at least trying to do so. Just to even consider options like the use of rail roads and, electric power, makes me think that those in charge like Petro are serious and aware of the very messy conditions that are threatening the future of the Bogotanos. When it comes to the use of cars, or the idea of getting a vehicle, which in Colombia more than a way of making life easier, is a symbol of economic status, the fight I'm afraid is going to be more difficult. Petro and the future mayors of Bogota must look for places like Amsterdam with extensive route networks for bikes, or Berlin where almost half a million people pedal to work each day. Now I know that Bogota is among the cities that are bike friendly in the world and, an example for other cities in south America, but perhaps we have to go deeper in to matters.

Great post like most of the time.

Mauricio Forero.

Colin said...

Enrique Peñalosa has said that a subway will bankrupt the city for 30 years.

Also, car ownership will grow faster than the ecnonomy. I've read some economists speculate that car loans in Colombia are approaching bubble territory.

Miguel said...

Hi Mauricio - The question is whether all these transit projects will overcome planning errors, corruption, economic crises and changes of gov't and actually get built. As far as cars, controlling them isn't an option, but a necessity if the city's going to be liveable. To get lots of people cycling would also require a huge cultural shift, as well as making the environment much friendlier, as in taming traffic and finally controlling pollution. - Mike

Miguel said...

Hi Colin - If other cities like Lima, Santiago, Caracas, etc, can build metros, I don't know why Bogotá can't afford one, too. The real question is the opportunity cost - what else do bogotanos have to give up to get a metro? Schools? Parks? Police protection? It's all money which could be spent somewhere else.