Levelling the odds with spokes in Bogotá


I am outing myself as a Bogotá cyclist. For the past couple of weeks, I have thrown caution into the wind – quite literally – and set out the criteria for my own personal boycott of yellow taxis, Uber, UberX, buses, TransMilenio and the capital’s disastrous pavements as a pedestrian, preferring to ride my bicycle to University and back four times a week. Admittedly, from my home to the Javeriana University is a mere 5km journey, but, I get to take on the ebb and flow of the vehicles on the Carrera Séptima and her rutted lanes. There are insights to be shared from bike level.

It has been quite a revealing experience. Previously, I had shied from the responsibilities of cycling in Bogotá due to a fully justified fear of the gladiatorial challenges presented by such an unruly melee of traffic. But, it is becoming clear that there is a pattern to this mayhem.

  1. The majority of cyclists do not obey traffic norms. Neither do they stop at red lights, nor do they put out their arm to signal a change of lane, nor do they respect the pedestrian or the pavement, nor one-way streets. This needs to change. A bicycle is a vehicle and therefore must adhere to vehicle rules. Just speak to anyone who has been hit by a bicycle running a light or travelling against the flow of traffic illegally, the thump, bruising and concussions are real.
  2. Drivers of yellow taxis, on the whole, thoroughly dislike cyclists. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they despise cyclists. I presume this has something to do with the fact that now, with the increase of cyclists on our roads, our venerable gentlemen led by Bogotá’s own taxi czar, Uldarico Peña, feel obliged to use their rearview and wing mirrors to actually be aware of what is taking place around them. Perhaps, those that have them, will now remove their- in-car and specifically for the driver – television screens?
  3. Bogotá’s roads are in a dreadful state and the much-lauded bicycle lanes aren’t much use at all. Veering left to avoid the in-swinging SITP Provisional buses exposes the cyclist to unnecessary and avoidable risks such as distinctly perilous holes and raised manhole covers. While some of the bike lanes have been improved, I have spoken to many cyclists who will travel the Septima, preferring the obvious dangers there, than those presented by the crowds of unaware pedestrians and vendors along the Carrera 11’s pavements. I have said it before and I won’t tire of repeating it, but the idea behind promoting the use of the bicycle is to get people out of their cars (and into public transport) and take cars off the streets…not to hinder pedestrians on the precious few level sections of pavements available in Bogotá.
  4. Drivers of private vehicles do not actually know the highway code nor the signage employed, when it is visible, in Bogotá. That Mayor Peñalosa and Antanas Mockus are involving themselves in political discussions about the use of yellow box junctions seems remarkably trite for politicians of their stature. Surely, we should be directing and venting our anger at driving schools which gift licenses to individuals after a week of lessons and no proficiency test, releasing more non-drivers onto the city’s roads?
  5. Bogotá’s transit police are still too few and are not visible enough to really make a difference. It’s an exaggeration, but the money hauls from traffic misdemeanors in Bogotá could pay for significant improvements to roads, transport links and for more police. Couldn’t it? Each and every day and at the same intersections there are traffic accidents and build ups due to a lack of authority in place. Just the sight of a transit policeman pulls drivers into line.

The list could go on and on, but, these are just five points which seem to be the most critical from my vantage point at tarmac-level as a cyclist. You’ll note that I have left Bogotá’s bus system virtually unmentioned. As a cyclist, I have found bus drivers to be bad-natured and uncouth, but amazingly predictable. It is this predictability which allows one to pre-empt all bizarre maneuvers as they seem involved in the incessant death-race referred to as the Guerra del Centavo. As soon as our outdated and belching SITP Provisional fleet is laid to rest and replaced with shiny new buses with card readers, the Guerra del Centavo will be a thing of the past.

There’s everything to do when it comes to Bogotá’s traffic woes and it takes time. I am neither certain that our Mayor’s insistence on seemingly bottomless investments in to the Transmilenio system nor increasing the number of cycle lanes by a further 120km is the solution, but, it appears that there might be a plan forming. Bogotá may become “la capital ciclista de América” in the future as announced in July, but she will still require her roads, buses, taxis and pavements too. It’s about integration, security and education and not focusing solely on pet projects and private interests.


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