Saturday, June 1, 2013

Petro's Master of Immobility

Traffic waits near the National University. We can't build our way out of this. 
Cars aren't moving, but the bicycle is.
Is there a lesson here?
Soon after his election, Mayor Gustavo Petro expressed an inspiring and realistic attitude about transit: 'Cars generate huge costs on society and their use should be discouraged, in favor of cycling, walking and public transit.' Bogotá, simply, can't handle more cars.

Petro also promised to make combatting climate change a fundamental part of his administration.

So, why in the world did Petro appoint Rafael Rodriguez, a car advocate from Paraguay whose experience is heavy with road construction projects and work with Japan's JICA - which notoriously proposed to solve Bogotá's traffic jams by slashing freeways across the city - to the post of Secretary of Mobility?

'Cars can't be controlled by decrees,' says
Rodriguez in today's El Tiempo 'Motor'
insert - one big auto ad.

Unsurprisingly, Rodriguez is now singing the car marketers' song.

Discourage driving, as Petro has urged? 'We shouldn't punish the private car,' says Rodriguez.

Promote alternative transport, like biking? Rodriguez wants to build more roads in the city.

Rodriguez's are worn out transit concepts which are being discarded by other cities, which are demolishing freeways because of the way they divide neighborhoods, scar the landscape and encourage crime.

It's also been widely documented that building more roads only encourages more driving, creating a vicious cycle - as Petro and other Progresistas have pointed out very well.

A hillside slum in central Bogotá. Should the city deprive
them of services to build roads for the rich?
It is true that Bogotá is being inundated by private cars. I read the terrifying statistic that in the last five years the number of cars has increased more than 50%. The roads will be overwhelmed - but that doesn't mean the city must spend its limited funds to pave itself over for the benefit of the wealthy car-owning minority, as Rodriguez wants to do - especially since that won't solve the problem. After all, those huge, wealthy U.S. cities have misspent fortunes paving themselves, and Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities are still notorious for their traffic congestion.

Promoting driving also promotes so many other problems being suffered by the United States, including sedentarism, obesity and the disintegration of city neighborhoods.
Nowhere to turn. Nowhere to go.
Better to have ridden a bike. 

And other problems here will worsen, particularly air pollution, thanks to all those cheap Chinese vehicles being imported and Colombian authorities' preference to not enforce their own air pollution laws.

In the U.S. some 40% of urban trips are of less than two miles, but 90% of urban trips are done by car. By shifting people onto their feet, bicycles or public transit, cities can gain huge benefits in health and liveability - and save money, too.

But the idea of promoting driving and building roads will benefit a few people: car builders and sellers and construction companies, who'll receive billions of public money.

But it would all be money wasted. I'm sure that Petro knows that. I bet that Rodriguez knows it too.

Rodriguez's predecesor Ana Luisa Flechas seemed to be on the right track. The city was working on creating a congestion charge and charging for parking on public streets. (Unfortunately, she was apparently a poor administrator.) Petro also wants to reduce the number of commercial parking spaces to discourage driving.

Rodriguez is likely to oppose all of those ideas as 'punishments for the private car.'

However, selfish and short-sighted transit policies like Rodriguez's will punish every Bogotano - drivers and non-drivers - for a long time to come.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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