TransMilenio along Séptima: A contentious debate for Bogotá residents

Property owners along the Carrera Séptima have taken to Bogotá’s most emblematic street to protest the planned expansion of TransMilenio. In what is being called by critics of the proposed 20 kilometer-long route as a “heavy-handed” and “autocratic” approach to public transportation by Mayor Peñalosa, the City Council authorized last month a budget of COP$2,3 billion for construction of the route. But, while the financing is secured, homeowners from Calle 32 to Calle 200 have vowed to continue protesting, and take this case to the high courts.

At a moment when Peñalosa faces a recall of his mandate, the TransMilenio along the Séptima has generated an outcry in public opinion, given the fact it will take three-years to build, and cause widespread traffic chaos in an already congested part of the capital, contributing to a deterioration of all ready bad air quality. According to the mayoralty, however, the planned route will facilitate 250 buses, instead of 1,500 currently circulating. The city’s Urban Development Institute (IDU), in charge of all public works, estimates that 26,600 properties will need to be purchased in order to make room for this controversial Troncal.

Representatives from the Defendamos la Séptima committee claim the mayoralty has not explained in sufficient detail the technical standards of the planned route, nor have they made a concerted effort to engage in a constructive dialogue. “As we have seen with this mayor in the past, it’s always TransMilenio first, the people second,” remarks Jaime Caicedo, an apartment owner, who fears he will be “forced from his apartment” to find housing in an insecure part of the city and at a much higher price per square meter. Other owners in the neighbourhood of Chapinero Alto, which depend on the Carrera Séptima, believe this TransMilenio will result in the depreciation of their properties, based on the experience of the Caracas Troncal, which, as a major artery for mass transportation, attracts criminals, and has resulted in a deterioration of public space due to street vendors, noise and pollution.

For other critics of the project, Peñalosa’s intervention of the ‘Calle Real’ (Royal Street) – name given to La Séptima during colonial times – will bulldoze architectural patrimony to make room for yet another concrete thoroughfare, stripped of all historical value and personality. But IDU disagrees, claiming that route will “revitalize commerce along this important corridor.” As the debate over La Séptima heats up, one thing Bogotanos can rest assured is Peñalosa– recall or not– will not be mayor upon its completion.