Urban Cycling Takes Off In Latin American Cities

As shown in a recently released study, urban cycling, one of the cheapest, healthiest and environmentally friendly ways of transporting yourself is gaining popularity in Latin American cities.

Latin American Cities cycling

Ecobici rental bikes in Mexico City. Photo flckr: laap mx

This was the main finding in the study "Biciciudades 2013", literally meaning "Bike cities", released late in 2013. The study, by researchers from the American Graduate University and representatives of the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI) - a project of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) - aims to help Latin American and Caribbean intermediate emerging cities learn from the success and failures of their larger neighbours.

The study focused on the use of bicycles, based on surveys sent to municipal governments and social groups from 18 of the 21 emerging cities designated by ICES - such as Salta in Argentina (population, 600,000) - and six of the largest cities in the region by population - such as Santiago in Chile (population around 5.5 million).

The study found that nearly all of the studied cities have bike lanes, except for Asunción in Paraguay and Manizales in Colombia. Despite having limited infrastructure, many cities are finding solutions to: the limited connectivity between cycle lanes; the limitations with bicycle parking; overcoming financial barriers; and increasing education and awareness.

Some programs focus on public access to bicycles, and include bike loan programs, or programs giving interest-free loans and grants for bicycles.

Which cities are leading the pack?

Cochabamba in Bolivia was the top city with 10 percent of the population depending on the bicycle. This was followed by La Paz in Bolivia, and Asunción, the Paraguayan capital, with 5 percent each. For comparison, in Portland in the United States, 6% of commuters bike to work, which is the highest proportion of any major US city, and about 10 times greater than the national average.

Of the bigger cities, Santiago and Mexico City, each have 3 percent of the population using bicycles as their main means of transport, followed by Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and Bogotá in Colombia with 2 percent.

Bogotá has been a world leader in bike paths in the last few years, now with 376 km of dedicated cycle lanes and 120 km of recreational paths making this one of the world's most extensive cycle networks.

The Secretariat of Mobility of the Capital District of Bogotá estimates that in the city of around 8 million, local residents cycle about 450,000 bike trips a day. With the largest group of bicycle users being manual laborers and factory workers, followed by students from lower-income families.

The Santiago City government is implementing a "master plan", set to be finished in 2022, to extend its bike lanes to a total of 933 km. Lanes are being built to connect the existing paths, and in order to promote cycling, a public service to lend out bicycles will be added. The city currently has 215 km of bike lanes, and 130 km of paths in the adjacent rural municipalities.

In Mexico City, the Ecobici Individual Transportation System launched in 2010, has 87,000 users of 4,000 bicycles at 275 stations along 22 km of paths. Users register and pay $31 USD a year. Also, Mexico City has 90 km of separated and non-separated bike lanes.

Despite these encouraging efforts, the study did not deliver only positive news. The study found that official support is not a priority in many municipal governments, hampered partly by lack of legislation and uncoordinated bureaucracy. But with this kind of research, these poorer performing cities can take notice and learn from some shining examples of how emerging Latin American cities can adopt a cheaper, cleaner, healthier way of travelling.  

Read also:

Bogotá: More Bikes and Buses, Fewer Cars


Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014