Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bogotá's Public Bikes - Stuck in Park

A delivery cyclist rides beside traffic in the Santa Fe neighborhood. Is Bogotá ready for public bikes?
On Friday, Bogotá suspended for at least the third time bidding for a public bicycles program.

Bicyclist fill the street during the Sunday Ciclovia.
Cycling isn't so popular the rest of the week.
The program's non-start is not only a failure of the public bikes program, but another decline in Bogotá's status as a cycling leader.

Creating a public bikes program has been a long-time dream for sustainable transport advocates here. A few years ago, they even tried out a pilot programs, which revealed interest in the service. Since then, there have been repeated plans and predictions.

However, despite repeated promises, no public bikes have hit the streets. (The District Institute for Sports and Recreation, the IDRD, does lend bikes in a few spots in the city, but their program is limited and not designed for transport. Go figger.)

Public bikes on Jimenez Ave. They are to be used only on specific
streets and are not intended for transport. (Go figger.)
Over the past few weeks, Bogotá put a planned public bicycles system, consisting of some 1,500
bikes, out for bid. However, only two consortia made offers: One of them has little apparent experience in anything; the second's experience is principally in garbage collection, and its owner has a history of corruption problems and recently supplied defective garbage trucks to Bogotá.

To City Hall's credit, it did not sign a contract with either company. But why can't Bogotá, a big city with a growing economy, manage to set up an economically-sustainable public bikes program? After all, metropolises including Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; Mexico City and even archrival Medellin all have public bicycles.

A cyclist wearing a pollution mask. Dirty air makes
cycling unpleasant - and even bad for you.
Is it because Mayor Petro, a one-time leftist guerrilla leader, suffers particular challenges in working with private businesses? Or do potential bidders, particularly operators of public bike programs in other cities, feel that Bogotá's crime, weather or vehicular chaos doom such a program to failure here?

Once upon a time, more than a decade ago, Bogotá was seen as a leader in the developing world in the promotion of bicycling. But in the last dozen years cities, Bogotá's bike lane network has been neglected, public bikes have not materialized and other cities around the region have made strides in cycling.

Sadly, the Colombian capital's inability to get its act together and make public bikes a reality may be symptomatic of a loss of drive and ingenuity from the days when Bogotá was celebrated as a leader in urban renewal.

'Latin America's best cycle paths network.' But other cities are building.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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