On Sundays in Bogota people are out and about, hundreds of thousands of them on bicycle, rollerblades or jogging and walking; it is really quite incredible how this city comes alive with a heartbeat of activity and citizens coming together to enjoy their city and get some exercise through Ciclovía (Sundays and public holidays from 7am-2pm). And even more incredible to be here having a fully immersive experience of Ciclovía and all its machinery.
The second morning saw Marcela and I up bright and early and presenting ourselves at the offices of the IDRD for a day of exploring Ciclovía. After a short tour of various parts of the centre, the extent of the operation and the efficiency with which it runs on a weekly basis became clear. Just imagine an inventory of equipment that includes a full kit for in-house first aid training! We were introduced to the Communications Centre, inhabited by seven people dedicated to managing all internal communications, transcription of radio traffic, recording of any incidents, monitoring the positions of all crew and many other duties. An interesting surprise was walking into a training session of a new batch of Guardians, currently undergoing a five month programme to be equipped for the job of Ciclovía Guardian. This role is at the core of what makes the Ciclovía successful, creating a strong network of mounted marshals throughout the route. This group of 64 trainees (out of an original group of 1500 applicants), between the ages of 18 and 22, sat intently listening to a session on accommodating people with disabilities at Ciclovía; part of the intensive theoretical and practical conditioning they complete.
After being kitted out with bikes and helmets, we set off with our host, Oscar Ruiz (Director of Recreation at the IDRD, with the Ciclovía in his portfolio of recreational programmes) and Operational Coordinator, Bibiana Sarmiento. Despite the joy of taking over roads usually dedicated to cars, it was remarkable to feel how normal and low-key the whole thing is. Barriers are minimal and in many places car drivers and Ciclovía users must navigate their relationship across intersections.
In addition to the Guardians, there is a team of over 600 high school students carrying out compulsory community/social service, who help to manage crossing points and support the Guardians. Furthermore, the police provide personnel throughout the network for security and to also help manage crossing points. We did see a couple of transgressions by motorcyclists entering the route, but on the whole everybody complies with the rules of engagement of this weekly urban transformation, and are quick to respond when reminded of them.
In the end we cycled almost 30kms (check out our route here), which is only a quarter of the total Ciclovía network in Bogota. Along this route we encountered regulated food stalls, bike fix stations, live music, an aerobics class and a body & mind tent with chess and other mental games.
The strange part was seeing traffic returning to normal in a post-Ciclovía scene. It was as if nothing had happened, with motorised traffic back to in place and people sticking to the pavements as they walked around. Operationally this has been the one of the hardest parts for us in Cape Town, transitioning from Open Streets to streets open again to cars, with Open Streets participants reluctant to move out of the road and coordination of barrier collection challenging. However, here in Bogota it happens seamlessly.
The exciting part will be to dig deeper to understand more about the Ciclovía operations and the impact of the programme on urban transformation of the city.