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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