Monthly Archives: May 2012

Mexico City’s Weekly Car Free Sunday Pedals through History

Car Free Sunday at The Angel of Independence - ©Ryan H.

Car Free Sunday at The Angel of Independence – ©Ryan H.

To travel along this wide pedestrianized promenade, Paseo de la Reforma, is to voyage from the Aztec antiquities to Mexico’s capitalist modernity with monuments to all of Mexico’s varied roots from Greek Goddesses, Aztec Emperors, Spanish Colonial Kings & Conquistadors, Mexican Independence Heroes, Mexican Revolutionaries, and the Mexican Stock Exchange.Mexico City, one of the largest and oldest cities of the world, celebrates Mexico’s storied history and humanity by opening up its grandest boulevard to hundreds of thousands of people every Sunday. This 24km pedestrian, skating, and pedaling route snakes its way through the core of this great city and civilization.

The Historic District of Mexico City Full of Bikes on Car Free Sunday - ©Ryan H.

The Historic District of Mexico City Full of Bikes on Car Free Sunday – ©Ryan H.

This large boulevard is the favorite spot for celebration and angst in Mexican national civic life, a place for parades and protests. The weekly car free Sunday event, titled “Cambia de Carril y Muevete en Bici” or “Change Lanes and Move on Bike,” encourages residents, families, and visitors of Mexico City to enjoy this historic street on foot, skates, or bike.

The route turns from this grand boulevard into the crowded, busy, and narrow streets of the Historic District of Mexico City leading to the center of the Mexican Republic, government, & the site of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, the Zocalo.

The route encircles the Zocalo and then heads to the spiritual capital of Mexico, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the national shrine devoted to the appearance of Mexico’s patron saint. The Basilica has been receiving pilgrims for almost 500 years continuously and is only second to the Vatican in number of annual pilgrims.

"Velotaxi" Pedicab in the Zocalo at Car Free Sunday - ©Ryan H.

“Velotaxi” Pedicab in the Zocalo at Car Free Sunday – ©Ryan H

The municipal government sponsors and organizes this weekly event with great precision and coordination. The route was filled with people and most of all, families with children. The city provides many different services to encourage residents and visitors a chance to pedal through history with programs such as free bicycle mechanic stations, medical kiosks, free bicycle loans and children’s bicycle trailers loan stations along the weekly event. These compliment Mexico City’s already modern and large bike sharing network, EcoBici, which has many computerized kiosks along the route.

Eco Bici- Mexico's Bike Sharing System ©Ryan H.

Eco Bici- Mexico’s Bike Sharing System ©Ryan H.

Many Non Governmental Organizations also arrange interesting programs at the “Change Lanes and Move on Bike”. Some of these include free public theater, environmental classes, yoga in the park, and photo & sculpture exhibitions. Two of the most creative programs are led by activists for the disabled. ‘Blind Bike’ is one of these programs, where the activists team up blind and disabled people on tandem bikes with more able bodied cyclists to allow the visually impaired a chance to enjoy the city from the saddle of a cycle, while having the sights described to them by their fellow pedaler! The other endearing project from these activists is “An Hour in Someone Else’s Shoes,” where people are encouraged to navigate the city in a wheelchair loaned to them, in the hopes of creating more empathy for the needs of the disabled community.

Skating and biking at Fountain of Diana, the Huntress - ©Ryan H.

Skating and biking at Fountain of Diana, the Huntress – ©Ryan H.

The most amazing aspect of the weekly event is how it takes place on what is, arguably, Mexico’s most important road. The street has a different monument at every intersection. Statues that are usually choked by cars & auto exhaust are liberated on these lazy Sunday mornings, easily approached by curious children and fumbling tourists. The route of Cambio de Carril y Muevete en Bici starts on the Paseo de la Reforma near the Presidential Residence. The first tribute is a fountain devoted to the Greek Goddess of Hunting and the Moon, Diana. When we attended the event, the fountain was being used as the start and finish line to a very well attended bicycle racing competition. Further to the North, was the bronze statue of the Angel of Independence, a monument and mausoleum to martyrs of the Mexican Independence of 1810. The city government had young university students loaning bikes at the base of the Angel, and we happily borrowed two of their bright yellow bikes, then joined in the giant bicycle procession that included people of all ages. Every other block, there were EcoBici stations, where members could rent bikes with a swipe of their card.

Bike Loans of all different types! Tricycle Pennyfarthing at The Fountain of Diana - ©Ryan H.

Bike Loans of all different types! Tricycle Pennyfarthing at The Fountain of Diana – ©Ryan H.

We pedaled along the route, excited to be on wheels again! Heading towards the Historic District, we entered into the center of finance in Mexico. The boulevard took us past the Mexican Stock Exchange, one of the tallest buildings in the Americas and we passed the embassies of the United States, Japan, Colombia, and the EU. In the midst of modernity, two separate monuments were staged a few blocks apart. One was to Cuauhtemoc, the Aztec emperor who was captured, tortured, and executed by Cortes and his invading Conquistadors. The other statue, at the next intersection, was to a Spaniard by the name of Cristobal Colon. Here in Mexico, where much of the nation is equally descended from each of these once opposing cultures, the Aztecs, and the Spanish, the juxtaposition had lost its irony. This road pulsed with people, art, history, and commerce. How excited we were to explore it at a relaxed pace from the vantage of a bicycle saddle.

Pedaling through the History of Mexico at Car Free Sunday - ©Ryan H.

Pedaling through the History of Mexico at Car Free Sunday – ©Ryan H.

What a treat that such a great nation makes the recreation of their citizens such a priority that they devote their most prized streets, monuments, and institutions to bicycles, skating, and walking every Sunday.

(Imagine Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. Being turned into a Pedestrian mall every Sunday!)

Story & photos by Ryan Hashagen & translated and edited by Lale Santelices.

We are currently travelling overland and sea from Portland, Oregon to Puerto Montt, Chile investigating Latin American cycling culture.

Follow our super wonky transportation travels on:
Facebook: Portland Pedicabs
Twitter: @portlandpedals & @GlobalGreenways
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/Global Greenways

Our Cambia de Carril y Muevete en Bici or “Change Lanes and Move on Bike” Flickr Gallery:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/globalgreenways/sets/72157629609105333/

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Lessons for Portland from our Sister City, Guadalajara

We originally wrote and shared this article at the excellent blog, BikePortland.org

We are traveling over land and sea by public transit to Puerto Montt, Chile. One purpose of our travels is to investigate cycling culture, transit, and public spaces in Latin America. These travels have taken us through Guadalajara, which is an official Sister City to Portland. What we found in Guadalajara were many innovations in cycling culture that can inspire Portland.

They have a hugely successful car free Sunday event, a vibrant and growing ‘bike fun’ culture, and three different bike share systems! The city is also constantly creating new public plazas and parks. We were really blown away by the passionate, diverse, and mature activism that is occurring in Guadalajara. They are truly building what they call a “social movement for urban mobility, culture, and public spaces.”

Below, I’ve summarized the key takeaways from three pillars of Guadalajara’s transportation revolution.

Via Recreativa (similar to our Sunday Parkways):

  • Via Recreativa was originated by citizens devoted to building more public spaces in Guadalajara. They pushed the city to start experimenting with the weekly event.
  • Event is not just for cyclists. There are many pedestrians, disabled, rollerbladers, & skateboarders. The city conducts outreach to these different groups.
  • This car free Sunday event occurs weekly since 2004. Now attracts an average of 150,000 people and stretches 25km in Guadalajara alone.
  • Route is located on the main arterial downtown. The Director of the event, Oscar Rodriguez Aleman told us: “We did the event downtown because there was such car density. Not only is this route beautiful, but it is the most important and traveled car route throughout the city. We wanted to empower people to enjoy our city.”
  • Police and Fire are not paid overtime. “Because the role of these groups is to keep our city safe, the Police and Fire Departments factor Via Recreativa into their budgets.” -Sr. Oscar
  • Local schools and universities require volunteerism as part of curriculum. Via Recreativa is one of the most popular options.
  • Route showcases local public spaces and new plazas. The route is also used to experiment with creating new public spaces. For example, Av. Chapultepec now has a widely used pedestrian plaza in the median, where it used to be a neglected planter strip of trash and dying plants.
  • Surrounding suburbs now have their own Via Recreativas that connect to Guadalajara’s event. These were started due to popular demand and pressure from suburban citizens
  • Businesses use the Via Recreativa as a marketing opportunity. The local newspaper has 2000 free loaner bikes for the event. Fitness clubs lead dance classes in their parking lots. LaLa Milk company offers free bikes for city tours of the route. Restaurants and bars advertise Sunday specials to Via Recreativa participants and overflow with customers.

Learn more about what we learned from the Via Recreativa here.

Guadalajara’s “Bike Fun” Culture

We attended two “bike fun” rides in Guadalajara put on by the group “Al Teatro en Bici.” We were very impressed by the hundreds and thousands of cyclists of all ages that they have participate.

  • Ride organizers actively pursue collaborations with non-profits (Red Cross), businesses (local newspaper), and the City of Guadalajara. These sponsorship help with promotions and marketing of events and cycling and also increases non-cyclist turnout.
  • The activists are not just devoted to cycling advocacy or ‘bike fun,’ but to use cycling as a vehicle for “a social movement for urban mobility, culture, and public spaces.” We heard this refrain repeatedly.
  • Rides are not political, but intended to transcend party politics and be a broad social movement.
  • Over four different rides a week by three separate groups.
  • Al Teatro collects nominal dues of $6, that allows a member access to their bike share library.
  • Group rides are very inclusive. All partying occurs at the end of the ride. Very diverse participants, from elementary students to the elderly.

We shared many more details on our “Bike Fun in Guadalajara” posthere.

Bike Share System

Guadalajara, like many other cities, wanted to develop a bike share system. Initially, the city government did not have the political will to implement a plan. Citizen activists took the lead and designed a very affordable, innovative approach to bike sharing. They did not rely on government subsidies or advertising revenue to fund the program. Theyrelied on the sales of bike racks!

Since their initial success they now have 2,600 members and both the City of Guadalajara and the local newspaper have started their own Bike Share systems.

Read our in-depth report on the citizen initiated Bikla Bike Share program here.

Guadalajara has many lessons to teach us. In Portland, we often look to New York and Copenhagen for inspiration, while our sister is pushing the boundaries and creating many innovations that we could learn from. Her citizens are passionately pushing for a new urban mobility, culture, and public spaces. Her leaders are following.

If you want to learn more about our transportation investigations in Guadalajara, check out our photos and stay tuned to the Active Right of Way blog for more reports. We’re also tweeting as we go via@portlandpedals.

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Car Free Sunday, Every Sunday in Guadalajara

Via Recreativa in front of the University of Guadalajara ©Ryan H.

Via Recreativa in front of the University of Guadalajara ©Ryan H.

Guadalajara is a city devoted to public spaces, parks, and plazas. Any given day or night these spaces are filled with families, vendors, and musicians. It is little surprise then, that Guadalajara hosts one of the most successful Car Free Sunday events the world over. This event, called Via Recreactiva, was inspired in a similar fashion as many other innovations in Guadalajara, by citizen activists.

We tracked down the Director of Via Recreactiva in Guadalajara, Oscar Rodriguez Aleman. He told us the origins and history of how Guadalajara had created this weekly space for community and health.

The citizen activists of Guadalajara were studying how to compose better public spaces and urban vitality. They met with the former mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa and were inspired by the example of this city in Colombia. Since 1976, Bogota has opened streets to cars by removing vehicular traffic, every Sunday. Approximately 2 million inhabitants of Bogota regularly enjoy these car free spaces to play, recreate, exercise, and socialize.

The citizen activists of Guadalajara teamed up with municipal “bureaucractivists” to try out the idea of a weekly car free space. This idea had not been successfully employed in Mexico before. Some of the government officials were very excited to put a car free plan into action, reacting that “let’s start tomorrow!” Instead, the city studied the idea for 6 months before hosting Guadalajara’s first Via Recreactiva on September 12, 2004.

Hula Hooping in the Park at ViaRecreActiva ©Ryan H.

Hula Hooping in the Park at ViaRecreActiva ©Ryan H.

Originally, the car free space was planned as an experiment to occur weekly for 12 Sundays for 4 hours each week.. The route was on downtown Guadalajara’s main east-west arterial, Avenidas Vallarta and Juarez that stretch from the Park of Solidarity to the Gates of Minerva. According to Sr. Oscar “We did the event downtown because there was such car density. Not only is this route beautiful, but it is the most important and traveled car route throughout the city. We wanted to empower people to enjoy our city.”

Quickly, the experiment proved to be a great success. The only drawback was that too many people were attending, so Guadalajara had to rapidly expand the route!

Via Recreativa now regularly attracts 150,000 participants weekly. It stretches over 25 km through Guadalajara alone and is accomplished weekly with around 400 volunteers, 150 support staff, and support groups like police, fire marshalls, and permit inspectors. These support groups are not paid overtime for their participation. “Because the role of these groups is to keep our city safe, the Police and Fire Departments factor Via Recreativa into their budgets.”

In 2008 and 2009 the surrounding suburbs started their own Via Recreativa events. These car free spaces occurred because of citizen demand. Now the Guadalajara route connects to these neighboring suburbs of Tonala, Zapopan, & Tlaquepaque. Together these Via Recreativs compose an extensive route stretching throughout the metropolitan region from the center of the city to residential suburbs. Another distant sprawling suburb, Tlajmulco, also has a weekly Via Recreativa in an area of the Guadalajara metropolitan region that resembles much of suburban United States, with big box stores like Home Depot and Walmart dominating the horizon.

ViaRecreActiva Tricycle

Little Nina learning to ride her trike during Via Recreativa, on what is ususally one of the busiest streets in the city. ©Ryan H.

Having experienced the summertime monthly car free “Sunday Parkways” in Portland, Oregon, we were delighted to see a larger and more mature event. The first thing that I noticed was that the streets were not just filled with bicyclists, but also with walkers, rollerbladers, youthful skateboarders, and the disabled. Children were learning to ride their first tricycles and bikes on the route. Teenagers and young adults giggled, while learning to rollerblade. Longboard skateboards carved these downtown streets.

The City of Guadalajara tries to encourage a diverse event by conducting outreach to these groups. A designated skateboard zone is set aside for attempting tricks. Volunteers are brought from local schools and the public university to help direct traffic and answer questions. The City publishes a comic book on how to safely enjoy the Via Recreativa. A local band sings the praises of the Car Free event with an album, “Ven a la Via” (Come to the Via), with liner notes explaining their passion for the event. “For everyone who likes walking, jogging, bike riding, skating, family stroll, using a wheelchair, enjoy recreational activities, cultural events, getting to know the city, or simply seeing and enjoying peoples movement through the city. Live Guadalajara, you are it’s soul . . . Come to the Via”

 Via Recreativa Dancing

A Fitness Club leads dances n their parking lot during the Via Recreativa ©Ryan H.

As the route progressed through downtown, engaging events were on every block. Volunteers were teaching hula hooping in the park and others were playing “Twister” on the sidewalk. Businesses spilled into their parking areas and led dance classes or held sidewalk sales. Mobile bike mechanics pedaled the route. The city invited bike store owners and mechanics to set up shop on the sidewalk, repairing and offering advice on how to best tune up one’s bike or skateboard, earning tips in the process. The local newspaper, El Informador offered over 2000 free bikes emblazoned with their logo to anyone who brought a coupon from the morning paper. Tours were led often of Guadalajara’s many historic sites along the route by city staff and volunteers. Free bikes with ‘LaLa Milk’ advertising were available for these tours. Restaurants offered breakfast and brunch specials and bars advertised drink deals. A bridal shop on the route, unlike most others in town, was open on a Sunday and had a huge sign proclaiming that fact, “ABIERTO DOMINGOS.” A children’s scooter race course was set up in a new plaza in the middle of Avenida Chapultepec. Underneath the Gates of Minerva, skateboarders jumped and pulled tricks. Every where we looked families, youngsters, disabled, and the elderly were enjoying this people friendly space running through the center of the city.

ViaRecreActiva Mechanics

Father & Son Bike Mechanics help fix bikes & skates at ViaRecreActiva ©Ryan H.

We were only able to explore a fraction of the route that now stretches from Tonala to Tlaquepaque, then into Guadalajara, and off to Zapopan.  The incredible length of this combined route allows all inhabitants of the Guadalajara metropolitan region a chance to recreate in their neighborhood and beyond. We only experienced a small part of this delightful Via Recreativa, but were amazed at the approachability and humanity of Mexico’s 2nd largest city. This people friendly space welcomed us to beautiful Guadalajara, a city shaped by the visions and dreams of her citizens.

Story & photos by Ryan Hashagen & translated and edited by Lale Santelices.

We are currently travelling overland and sea from Portland, Oregon to Puerto Montt, Chile investigating Latin American cycling culture.

Follow our super wonky transportation travels on:
Facebook: Portland Pedicabs
Twitter: @globalgreenways
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/globalgreenways

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