“You almost have that Shoreditch look, mate,” I mumble to myself as a thirty-something with a neo-Edwardian beard narrowly misses colliding with me on the Carrera Quinta. As I duck the branch of a Siete Cueros (one of Bogotá’s emblematic trees), the blitheness of this fashionista of not letting go of his partner’s hand, even for an instant, is indicative of Bogotá’s bad sidewalk manners. The odyssey of transiting three blocks to my nearest supermarket didn’t end with the mishap of the floral print couple.
By swerving into the tree, I also narrowly missed the territorial markings of a mascota and in doing so, fumbled like an NFL player over the rear tire of yet another badly parked Rappi motorcycle. In the neighborhood where I have resided for over a decade (I have been told by police not to disclose information publicly given the rash of insecurity), the most I have had to jostle in this barrio is “Chato”. I use the past tense because this affable street peddler of religious iconography is neither here, nor there, but does seem to magically appear waving a baseball card-size image of Saint Christopher when I have just purchased an online ticket. “Chato” is no hacker, nor street menace. His gentle demeanour is accompanied always by a few indecipherable and prophetic couplets that give meaning to the day. While “Chato” is the dilettante of the street, offering to sweep the pavement and look after illegally parked cars, the barrio has become invaded by helmeted delivery drivers lounging on the only functional bench, their motorcycles hogging the sidewalk, and oblivious to the fact their two wheelers are obstructing a sidewalk meant for pedestrians, and pedestrians only. Then, there’s the tyranny of our “bici” culture – or lack of it. Bogotá’s sidewalks are treacherous unto themselves, with uneven surfaces and bricks that have come loose from cracked concrete.
If you are an elderly person or physically impaired, negotiating a sidewalk can be a real ordeal, let alone having to sidestep a spaced-out “bici” riding on the wrong side of the street, or not even on the street: the sidewalk.
This pedantic four-letter word gets under my skin like a nasty tropical bug, because it represents the worst of our street illiteracy. If we’re too lazy to say a word, what does it tell you about the person using it? I am willing to receive the ire of cyclists who feel I am being too harsh on them in this editorial, but if you don’t have a guilty conscience and aren’t one of those sidewalk ayatollahs then, as far as I am concerned, you’re good to go. According to Bogotá’s Institute of Urban Development (IDU), the city has 28 million square meters of sidewalk, with Chapinero accounting for one million of them. In theory, there should be enough room to walk.
But, throw in bags of trash waiting to be collected, hordes of motorcycles meandering illegally through on coming pedestrians, parked carts of street vendors and you get a pretty dire picture of the antics required to run an errand on foot. I don’t want to be too critical about our city, especially with those who use clean transportation. Bogotá should take great pride in its bike lanes, as well as its Sunday culture of the Ciclovía. The real question is: Why does the courtesy shown by cyclists on any given Sunday end Monday? Bogotá was a pioneer in Latin America for encouraging alternative transportation, but now, with the boom of electric bikes, we are seeing even more accidents on roads already over-run by motorcycles. Part of the justified ire pedestrians face with cyclists in Bogotá has to do with the steady deterioration of the official bike lanes, and even though Law 769 of 2002 was designed to come to the defense of Colombia’s cyclists, it also defined that sidewalks are of exclusive use for pedestrians.
The law also states that two wheels can occupy an entire lane and ride in caravans. As tends to be the case not only in this city, but the entire country under Law 769, aren’t the rules and regulations we should abide by, rather how they are misused by those who peddle above the law. As a sidebar to this debate on sidewalks and semantics, I totally support mayor Peñalosa’s decision to ban for three months male passengers riding as parrilleros. The decree that went into effect Friday, February 2, should shake us out of our complacency, for when it comes to crime, we must always take a stand.
Now, would you please let me through.