Photo by El Espectador
We have started delving into the foundations of Ciclovía, which celebrated its 40th year of existence in 2014. What inspires a city and its citizens to pursue a programme like Ciclovía? In the 1970s in Colombia a variety of different factors converged to bring about the birth of Ciclovía. There was a desire to provide a safe place for cyclists, partly as a result of the highly competitive cycling culture in the country, and the rise of the use and priority of the motor vehicle. Consequently, there was also a need to find a solution to the mobility challenges of the city. The idea was largely promoted by Procicla, a private entity which earned the support of the mayor and was able to shut down 5kms of calle 72 on the 15th of December 1974 between 9am and 12pm.
Similarly, Open Streets Cape Town (OSCT) was started (in 2012) by a group of volunteer citizens with a strong desire to change the status quo of mobility in our city. People riding bicycles to commute are few and far between, and those who do cycle run great risks; both due to infrastructure designed exclusively for cars and the culture of drivers who are ignorant of or aggressive towards cyclists. OSCT has grown since then in vision and capacity, making some big strides, but the essence of building something to make positive change is what guides us.
Since the 1970s, Ciclovía has grown from being a series of individual circuits happening simultaneously in various parts of the city, to eventually connecting up as a network of corridors in the 90s. Initially it was run by the Secretariat of Transport, until 1995 when the Institute of Recreation and Sport took over the programme, with a successful change of focus from mobility and transport to physical activity and social cohesion. This kind of insight from decades of experience is highly interesting and valuable for us, only 3 years into our journey and in the process of determining exactly how Open Streets should develop in Cape Town. What will it look like in 40 years time? What directions will the journey take?
What is absolutely clear is that government ownership and support of the programme is vital, especially in the form of strong leadership. According to our host, Oscar Ruiz, "Ciclovía has great returns in terms of wellbeing and joy, which do not translate into financial rewards, but government benefits very directly." Beneficiaries of Ciclovía are the citizens to whom government is answerable. Whilst private organisations like us may campaign and drive the development of the programme, it is long-term and consistent commitment by government that ensures its success.
As we meet with different members of the IDRD team that runs Ciclovía, we are discovering all sorts of information that can only be found out through first-hand research and asking countless questions. From the creation of very detailed templates that enable all involved to account for every single incident and happening during Ciclovía, to their current efforts to attract the private sector in a more meaningful way and provide a more sustainable financial base to the programme, the process of building Ciclovía seems to never end. It is often the anecdotal stories and personal experiences of these individuals that provide the most insight. By the same token, it is becoming clear that the programme's ongoing success is due to these individuals, both past and present, who dedicate themselves to Ciclovía.
I look forward to sharing the next installment, which will cover another emerging clue about commitment to this national treasure by another group of people.
Read more and see previous blog posts about the Cape to Colombia trip here
Read more about the history of Ciclovia here
This content was made possible through the support of the WWF Nedbank Green Trust.