Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Of Trash and Traffic Jams

Homeless men pick thru garbage outside the
Las Nieves fruit market.
Bogotá has two severe and worsening problems:

Too much trash, and too much traffic. We've all seen the huge piles of garbage on corners, which may have decreased, by haven't disappeared now that the city has supposedly got a new company collecting its waste.

And, just a few days ago, Bogotá's traffic congestion was ranked the second worst in all of South America.

A huge -and routine - traffic jam on Calle 26
in central Bogotá. Wluld a congestion charge help?
Bogotá has attempted futiley to address both crisis with a simple formula: Provide more space. It has expanded the Doña Juana landfill, and even talked about establishing a second one. And, it has spent many billions of pesos expanding urban avenues and intersections, only to have thousands of additional cars crowd those new spaces.

Unfortunately, increasing supply of something only generates more production, leaving the problem as bad or worse.

In the case of Bogotá's garbage, residents who toss trash onto corners and sidewalks have no limit to what they dispose of and no incentive to reduce the waste they produce.

The city's perpetual entreaties to recycle have accomplished little. And recycling is a poor solution compared to not producing the garbage in the first place.

Carrying plastic bottles - which will be used once and discarded - to a store.
Would a deposit keep them out of the landfill?
Would it discourage their use in the first place?
Bags of organic waste. How about paying flower growers to buy them and turn them into compost? That would save space in the landfill while also reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
Tires discarded behind the Central Cemetery. In many places, a deposit paid when a tire is purchased pays for its later reprocessing into something else.

And, in the case of traffic, studies have repeatedly shown that increasing road space only lures more drivers onto the roads.

A garbage truck painted with a slogan urging people
to place recyclables into white bags.
In both cases, the city shoulds employ economic incentives to motivate residents to change their behavior.

An obvious one is a deposit on tires, bottles and other disposable items, which would be used to pay
consumers to return those objects to be reused or recycled, and finance their reprocessing into something useful. The beauty of a deposit is that it also shifts the costs to the products' users instead of society in general.

Recycling sounds idealistic, but is much less environmentally sound than simply not generating waste in the first place. And, most of Bogotá's recycling programs are disfunctional, anyway. Take a peek into most recycling bins, and you'll see regular trash in all of them. And the trash collectors have only one place to dump the contents, anyway. The city urges residents separate recyclables from regular trash and place them in white bags. Nobody does this - and for good reason, since the trash collectors have no separate place to carry recyclables, anyway. And even if people did separate out their recyclables, dogs and homeless people would come by and rip open the bags and scatter the trash, anyway.

And the best way to reduce traffic congestion is to raise driving's cost, by hiking the cost of gasoline or introducing a London-style congestion charge for driving into the center of the city. Bogotá's Pico y Placa law, which prohibits cars from driving three days per week depending on their license plate numbers, has obviously failed to reduce traffic jams, and may even be making them worse.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Bolívar Loses His Sword - Once Again

Simon Bolivar, swordless, on Plaza Bolivar.
In January 1974, the M-19 guerrillas introduced themselves to Colombia with a dramatic gesture: They invaded the Quinta de Bolívar in La Candelaria and stole Libertador Simon Bolivar's sword.
Simon's swordless
sword hand.

With the sort of dramatic, media-friendly flourish the M-19 were known for, they then announced
that 'Bolivar's sword had returned to battle' - presumably for democracy, sovereignty and social justice.

In the M-19's hands, the sword seems to have been hidden in a brothel, in the homes of various Colombian artists and intellectuals, and then smuggled to revolutionary Cuba. Meanwhile, after several more dramatic actions, the M-19's career turned tragic in 1985 when its assault on the Justice Palace became a bloodbath.

When the M-19 signed a peace treaty with the government and demobilized in 1991, its leaders gave back to the Colombian nation what they claimed was the same sword they had stolen.

Today may be a less dramatic and idealistic time for Coombia. So, perhaps appropriately, one of Bolivar's swords was stolen last week, apparently for much more pragmatic reasons.

A missing manhole cover on Plaza San Victorino, which someone has covered with a piece of concrete.
The sword in question this time is the one on Plaza Bolivar, in front of City Hall, the Supreme Court and Congress. But, rather than a symbol of revolution, this blade apparently was taken to a scrap dealer, who tossed it onto a heap of metal to be melted down.

It's a mystery how the sword was stolen on Colombia's most important public plaza, which is
A plastic non-recyclable manhole cover
on Jimenez Ave., near where a girl fell thru
and drowned several years ago.
patrolled by guards and monitored by cameras. Authorities vowed to capture the culprit.

Sadly, the incident was no aberration. In Bogotá, virtually any piece of metal which can be picked up or ripped away from its moorings will be, often by crack addicts desperate to buy another hit.

The other day, the doorhandle disappeared from our house. A few years ago, when I lived around the corner, someone ripped stole our metal plate house number.

Unfortunately, metal theft can cause more than just inconvenience. A couple of years ago, a little girl fell into a manhole whose cover had been stolen and drowned in an underground river.

In a city with lots of poverty and drug addiction and poor law enforcement, this is not an easy problem to solve. But authorities could make selling stolen scrap more difficult by doing sting operations. Since nobody has the right to sell a city manhole cover, any scrap dealer who buys one is committing a crime, and should have his business shut down.

Several years ago, someone stole one of Saint Frances de Assisi's adoring animals from a plaza in north Bogotá. Was the poor metal deer melted down?
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, February 17, 2018

More Color in La Candelaria

The newly-painted La Concordia park, in La Candelaria. The painting was done by 'Rodaz,' with his sons Nomada and Malegria, sponsored by the city through Idartes. The murals, which really brighten the park up, were inaugurated with a celebration Feb. 17, complete with breakdancers.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Photos of the Day

These two little girls were accompanying their father, a street vendor on Calle 22, just west of Carrera 7. Is this the start of a lifetime reading habit? Hope so.

Under Peñalosa, the police have aggressively pursued such vendors, clearing them off of sidewalks. But what harm is this guy doing? The sidewalk is wide, and no formal businesses nearby are selling books.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Visit to Paloquemao's Morning Flower Market

Today is Valentine's Day - a big day in Colombia, if only because flowers drive a chunk of the economy. Over recent decades, Colombia's flower exports have bloomed, mostly to the United States (and at the expense of the U.S.'s domestic flower market, which has wilted), thanks to greatly reduced tarrifs. 

So, what better place to commemorate Valentine's Day than in Paloquemao's morning flower market, which we sometimes visit during our bike tours.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Another (Dubious) Recognition for Bogotá!

Bogotá drivers and passengers wait...
Colombia has achieved yet another dubious recognition. The analysis firm Inrix found that Colombia has the worst traffic in the region and the THIRD-WORST IN THE WORLD. , expect for Sao Paolo.
In La Candelaria, every evening.

Bogotá has worst traffic than any other regional cityThat's a grim honor, since Colombia is still a developing nation and car ownership rates here are certain to continue growing quickly.

The infuriating thing about traffic trouble is that, unlike a drought, earthquake or flooding, traffic congestion is man-made and completely avoidable. Instead, Bogotá seems to be doing its best to make traffic worse, with subsidized gasoline, free parking and saturation advertising. The media also buy into this, of course, by publishing cheering stories whenever cars sales are strong, apprently not recalling that those vehicles will soon strangle streets and poison our air.

Waiting on 26th Stree.

Traffic jams aren't just bad for making it to appointments on time. They also increase air pollution, contribute to sedentarianism and cause stress and noise.

What can Bogotá do about its terrible traffic? It's simple, if not easy: Raise the cost of driving, both economically and convenience-wise. That means charging more for gasoline, parking and other driving-related things. Enforcing air pollution laws would take a significant number of cars off of the road. And, expanding TransMilenio and bike lanes would make traffic congestion worse. But, by discouraging driving, the policies would encourage residents to leave their cars at home.

However, those policies are also all unpopular, so don't hold your breath.

Carrera 5 in its usual condition.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Canine Tejo!

'This is how you play tejo, boy.'
During our bike tours, we usually stop for a tejo match. Today, this young couple had brought their dog, a your and lively creature. The dog chased the tejo, which is a heavy iron disk, but naturally could not grab it. Each time a mecha exploded, the dog ran outside - but then soon returned.

Here you go!

'Go get it, boy!'

I'm gonna catch me a tejo yet!

 By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours