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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: Greenways

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

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Lessons for Portland from our Sister City, Guadalajara

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

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

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Bike Fun in Guadalajara!

Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico – Guadalajara is building momentum on their bicycle mobility movement. They have many rides that occur weekly attracting a wide range of people. These social bike rides have been occurring for less than a year and a half, but regularly attract hundreds or thousands of participants. Guadalajara’s sister city, Portland, Oregon claims title to “bike fun,” but Guadalajara is using social bike rides for a different purpose, to build a “social movement for urban mobility, culture, and public spaces.”

Al Teatro en Bici

Al Teatro en Bici's fleet of bikes to loan with their stereo trike in front. ©Ryan H.

Al Teatro en Bici is one group of cyclists that hosts two different cultural bike rides every week. Their Tuesday rides pedal throughout the city to watch theatre and their Thursday rides, called “Bicinema,” head off to enjoy artistic cinema. When we attended both the Tuesday and Thursday bicycle rides they rivaled any bike fun rides held in Portland. The riders were extremely diverse in age, gender, and style, from elementary school students to grandparents. There was a very festive atmosphere, but no apparent drinking before the ride. It was a welcoming environment for everyone. The rides are well organized, with ride leaders of many different ages wearing reflective vests and keeping riders in the right lane, ‘a la derecha, por favor.’

Al Teatro en Bici Chino Cappuccino

An homage to a departed bike clown. (On a mini bike!) ©Ryan H.

The Tuesday we attended Al Teatro en Bici, it was a tribute to a recently deceased member of the cycling activist community, Chino Cappuccino, a bike clown.  Many of the participants and organizers wore clown noses in tribute.   Instead of the usual destination of an outdoor plaza or theater, this night had a very different destination. The 5km route was a circuitous loop that climaxed at the funeral home where all the pedalers applauded respectfully for their deceased friend and his mourning family.

This ride was also special because the city had just removed 15 automobile parking spaces and replaced them with Guadalara’s first on street bike parking. The bike parking to be used for 200 free bikes provided by the local newspaper, El Informador, as a bike sharing program administered by Al Teatro en Bici. These 200 free bikes are available to Teatro en Bici members. These bikes are single speed cruisers with Informador advertising and are available in exchange for a photo ID to anyone who has paid their $6 USD annual Al Teatro en Bici dues. This arrangement composes one of Guadalajara’s three different bike share systems. These loaner bikes also allow for many non bikers to join the ride. The Tuesday evening ride had over 700 participants and all of the 200 bikes were being used. These loaner bikes dramatically increased the diversity and demographics of the participants. These bikes were being used by young kids, the elderly, and many others wobbling down the streets. The loaner bikes and the huge group ride created an opportunity for inexperienced cyclists to enjoy the bustling city safely.

Al Teatro en Bici & Red Cross

The local Red Cross sponsors the ride ©Ryan H.

Another way that Al Teatro en Bici encourages diversity of cyclist skill levels is by having at least one mobile mechanic on bicycle accompanying each ride and a Red Cross pace car – truck on each of the rides.  My first reaction to the bright red truck with flashing yellow lights was disgust at a truck tagging along, because we are on a BIKE ride. Though, as the ride progressed I saw that the young kids or the elderly who got tired would have their bikes put in the back of the truck and get a ride back to the park.  This truck provided medical support and picked up broken bikes.  The truck also helped mitigate confrontation with aggressive drivers and allowed a sense of authority to the bike ride. None of the other ride participants shared my concerns of having a car with us, so I got off my figurative tall bike.

Throughout the route we were cheered on by pedestrians and motorists excited by the cycling procession. The organizers in reflective vests and the Red Cross truck in the rear made it so there was no frustrated automobiles. After a pleasant pedal and remembrance for the departed bike clown, we all returned to the Park of Independence, and people checked back in the loaner bikes. We were also serenaded by two different concerts before and after the ride that were staged in the middle of the new bike parking. Al Teatro en Bici has a theme song that kicks off and ends each of their rides, where everyone that knows the lyrics sings along with the booming stereo trike, ‘We are pedaling off to the theatre, come and join us on our adventure.’

The crowd thinned quickly, being a Tuesday night, and only 150 or so people stayed to enjoy the concert and party. I took the opportunity to pepper the organizers and attendees with questions about the history and purpose of Al Teatro en Bici. Everyone was very excited to share their experiences with this Gringo from Portand. They all told me how their cycling activism was not political in any way, that it was purely a “social movement for urban mobility, culture, and public spaces.” Everyone I talked to told me that this was their common purpose. It seemed so much more mature than bike rides that I have participated in elsewhere. They refused to identify with the left or right politically as a movement. For these activists, the Al Teatro en Bici was an opportunity to re-envision mobility and promote culture in Guadalajara.

Al Teatro en Bici

Ride organizers keeping everyone safe. ©Ryan H.

One of the Al Teatro en Bici activists, Jose Manuel Castañeda, repeated to me of how their rides are a part of their “movement for public spaces, urban mobility, and to promote arts, culture, recreation, and health.” Their rides started small with one a month, less than a year and a half ago and have grown dramatically. The city government, Red Cross, local newspaper, TV, and radio stations have begun sponsoring these events as a way to support culture and market to cyclists.” The police will help the large rides by blocking traffic, because “their job is to keep everyone safe.” The Al Teatro crew still holds their original 1st Thursday of the month ride, which regularly attracts 6 to 7 thousand cyclists. He told us how, “Many people show up for the fun of the ride and to be social, but as the movement progresses, people are realizing an alternative for mobility.”

Alfonso Leguer, another cyclist that became a good friend, told us that we were witnessing a generational shift in Guadalajara. The state government of Jalisco continues to push through automobile projects, like double decking freeways. “They promote these ideas with flashy TV advertisements with smiling faces and fast moving cars” Recently, the city of Guadalajara and activists have responded. There are now counter advertisements declaring a need for a new approach to mobility. Alfonso told us that about one that can be seen on Youtube, informing viewers that if ‘we were to line up all the cars in Guadalajara bumper to bumper, they would stretch all the way to Santiago, Chile. We need a new approach to mobility.’

Al Teatro en Bici - Bicinema

A diverse group departs after our "Bicinema" ©Ryan H.

Al Teatro en Bici activism is continuing to innovate, by bringing their rides out into the rural areas of the state of Jalisco by launching a new set of rides. These rides, called Bicientenario, are a play on words in honor of Mexico’s 200th birthday. These monthly rides are arranged to bring culture and cycling to the rural areas surrounding Guadalajara., using a truck and a bus to take participants out to a rural village, where they lead a ride throughout the town and then settle in to watch theatre or projected films.

Al Teatro en Bici is not the only group hosting weekly rides. Two other different activist groups, GDL en Bici & Paseo Ciclista Nocturno, hold their own nighttime car free streets events every week, called “Via Recreativa en la Noche.” These events regularly attract 5,000+ participants, according to Rodriguez Alemán Oscar, the director of the City Guadalajara’s car free Sunday, Via Recreativa. The activists use 40 volunteers with reflective vests to close the streets surrounding Avenida Chapultepec. Sr. Oscar told us that originally there would be conflicts with car drivers, as the groups would just go and block the streets. The local police and fire department would see these events and realize that these activists and crowds needed help and protection. Now, the city assigns one police car and a fire truck to these events each week to keep everyone safe. He told us that the police and fire marshals are not paid extra for this assignment, tbut hat helping the activists is part of “their duty to keep the city safe.” We asked Sr. Oscar about the permitting requirements for these activists closing a main arterial in the city. He told us, “they do not get permits, it is informal. It is not illegal, because they are all vehicles. These bike rides are to generate social consciousness about cyclist visibility.”

For additional information check out the Al Teatro website or

Like them on Facebook under Al Teatro en Bici, Follow them on Twitter @alteatroenbici

youtube video regarding mobility in Guadalajara:

This story was written 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: Globe Greenways
Twitter: @GlobalGreenways

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Guadalajara Creates an Affordable, New Style of Bike Share

Bikla Bike Share in Guadalajara

A Bikla Bike Share Station with a bike map and cycling directions. ©Ryan H.

In Guadalajara, a group of bicycle activists called Bicipublica have created a completely new form of bike sharing system. They were inspired by Velib in Paris and Bixi in Montreal, but in Guadalajara, there was little political support for creating a municipal bike share system. Instead they funded their own system by selling bike racks called “Cycle Ports” to local businesses. Their system is much more affordable and easier to implement than existing bike share models. The cycle activists use the resources of existing businesses to check bikes in and out to bike share members. This economical and innovative approach to bike sharing is a model that these Guadalajara cycle activists believe can be copied all over the world.

The Guadalajara system is called Bikla and is different from all other common modern bike sharing systems. The Bikla system does not rely on government subsidies, advertising contracts, or GPS & SIM card tracking devices. Bikla relies on members & existing businesses that want to promote cycling and their location.

The Bikla bike share system works very simply. People purchase a membership for around $15 USD a year. They are given a Bikla ID card that lists the 21 bike share stations and their hours of operation. Each of the participating businesses is required by Bikla to have internet access and a Cycle Port or “staple” style bike racks. These businesses are cafes, restaurants, bookstores, etc. throughout central Guadalajara. When a Bikla member arrives at one of these businesses to check out a bike, the staff logs onto the Bikla website & enters the members ID number. The member is assigned one of the bikes that are locked up outside and the staff of the business gives them the corresponding key. When the Bikla member is done with the bike, they can return it to any of the participating businesses, lock to the Cycle Port, and have the business staff log the return of the bike and deduct “Bike Time” from the user’s card. This system is unusual because it is so simple and affordable. The entire bike sharing infrastructure consists of bikes, normal keyed locks, bike racks, and businesses with internet access. The businesses do not pay to participate, except for purchasing a bike rack and Bikla does not pay the businesses for being a part of the system. Each business benefits from being a station by increasing their exposure to potential customers.

Bikla Bike Share in Guadalajara

Mario Delgado & Itcell Islas, the Director & Grachic Designer for Bikla ©Ryan H.

The activists at Bicipublica have used inexpensive internet technology to enable members to pay for “Bike Time” and check on the web to see where bikes are currently available. The Bikla mapping also lets them administer a system of bikes throughout Guadalajara. Internally, they are able to track bikes that are overdue or those that need maintenance.

The Bikla bike share system employs one mobile mechanic who each day heads out into the city with the necessary tools to keep the bikes functional. As staff of participating businesses check bikes back in, they can log any maintenance issues. The mechanic, Santana Rodriguez Noe, conducts triage on the fleet and picks the bike in the worst shape to pedal home each day. The next morning, that bike gets a complete overhaul and heads back onto the streets as the best running bike in the system.

Bikla Bike Share in Guadalajara

Bikla Bikes in action on the weekly Via Recreativa, car free Sunday ©Ryan H.

Bikla has become a great success in Guadalajara. The system was launched two years ago and now has over 2,600 members. The organizers believe that their system is 30% less expensive than other modern bike share systems funded by advertising like EcoBici in Mexico City. The success of Bicipublica has led to talks to launch Bikla style systems in many other cities throughout Mexico. The Guadalajara municipal government and the local newspaper have also both launched their own separate and different bike sharing systems. Bike sharing has become an integral part of the cycling culture in Guadalajara.

According to Mario Delgado, director of Bicipublica, their goal is to “change people’s transportation habits” and to “see cycling become part of our culture.” “Our concept is very local, designed to satisfy the culture of the place, by using local artists and culture to accommodate the bike sharing to each city. Local minds to advertise to the locals. As cyclists, they know that “it is hard to change people’s perspective. But we believe that Guadalajara can be a catalyst for Latin America with the bike.”

For additional information check out their website, which has an english translation.

Email Bicipublica at :

Like them on Facebook under “Bikla.”

Follow them on Twitter @bikla_gdl

This story was written 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: Globe Greenways

Twitter: @GlobalGreenways



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Two Very Different Nights in Mazatlan

We arrived to Mazatlan at eleven at night (5 hours later than we were promised and sold). It was dark and late.
There was a lot of partying on the streets surrounding the bus terminal which made us frightened. After hearing so many horror stories, the last thing we wanted was to be on a foreign place with no plans, no friends and huge backpacks.
We frantically walked around the blocks near the bus depot, shopping around and we found an affordable hotel room that supposedly air-conditioned and had WiFi.  We paid one nights fee and followed the man to our humble abode.  He gave as the key with a great big smile and a “Buenas Noches.” We were overjoyed saying: “WE MADE IT” with our traditional Mazatlan Bedbugscelebratory high-five, immediately followed by  “is that a roach walking on our pillow?”Fortunately, it was not ONE roach, but actually TWO gigantic roaches taking a stroll on the white linen. Alas, it was by now much too late, we had already paid, and we had nowhere else to go. So we laid down a blue plastic tarp on the bed and opened our sleeping bags where we slept pillow-less on the tarp.
Next morning we gathered our belongings, thanked the man and

Pulmonias Taxis in Mazatlan

investigated town. Mazatlan is a beautiful city full of life with a beautiful historic district and tons of these crazy Golf Cart taxis, called “Pulmonias” buzzing around.  One of our biggest surprises with Mexico was all the suburban sprawl! Big box stores fringed the historic city.

We explored town, walking the waterfront and taking in all the foreign sights.  We had never seen preschool walls guarded by broken glass embedded in concrete along the top.
We wandered the colonial streets and found a Paleteria!  Back in Portland, we run an Ice Cream Tricycle business vending fruit popsicles made from Paleteria Paisanito in Woodburn, Oregon.  The owner of Paisanito makes the most delicious treats and even custom flavors for us.  We were so excited to find a Paleteria here in Mazatlan and even more excited that they were trying new popsicle making techniques, like not using corn syrup and trying natural coloring.  The owner was a bit bewildered to meet Tricycle Paleta Vendors from Gringolandia, but she happily toured us around her cute shop.  We left with big smiles and devoured her fruit treats in the Mexican sun.

Family Biking in Mazatlan

The old town is gorgeous and we explored it’s narrow alleys.  As the day wore on, we began to think about the night.  Not wanting to sleep with our cockroach friends again, we logged online at a web cafe on the main plaza and checked into  We had used CouchSurfing once on our trip South in the States and had a great night with an old professor on the Oregon Coast.  We had received some offers in Mazatlan, but did not want to call our hosts that late at night.  It is always a bit nerve wracking to make the CS call, our plans always are upended, usually in a great way.

We called our potential host.  It was late in the afternoon and Miguel was just waking up, he scolded us for not calling him the night before.  Miguel knew the cafe that we were at and he sent his favorite taxi driver to pick us up!  His address was in Zona Dorada or the Gold Zone.  The taxi showed up promptly and wove in and out of traffic to get us from the historic center to Miguel’s abode.  The streets were hectic and busy as we drove through the neighborhoods.  Street performers dressed as ancient Aztec warriors danced in the intersections for spare change.
The Gold Zone lived up to its name and the businesses turned dramatically glossier and more corporate as we approached the entrance to Miguel’s gated community.  Lale and i spoke to each other nervously in English, trying to figure out whether we had gotten ourselves into trouble here.  Were we heading to the palace of a Narco?
Miguel lived in this palatial housing complex surrounding a golf course and many swimming pools.  We were not sure what to expect.
He came out of his beautiful condo and welcomed with perfectly American accented English.  Miguel toured us through his place and showed us our room with a private bathroom, Egyptian cotton sheets, and our own personal towels!
We settled into conversation and slowly discovered that Miguel was just a dorky fellow who worked for a Canadian mining company.  The luxurious setting of his housing community was mostly a haven for American Gringo retirees and for rich Mexicans.
For the next two days, we enjoyed this royal CouchSurfing lifestyle.  Miguel insisted on going out on the town and we had dinner in the middle of the Historic Center.  Afterwards, he slick talked us into the municipal theater and we watched an incredible choir and concert.  It was quite a remarkable difference from our Cockroach motel!

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From Tijuana to Mazatlan by Bus

Crossing the Border on Foot

We were scared.

Our travels had gone well so far in the ol’ U.S. of A., but now we had entered Mexico.  The American newspapers were filled with stories of daily carnage in la Nortena.  Even our friends from Michoacan were afraid to return home.

We walked through the border crossing turnstile and joined the herd of people walking into Tijuana at the end of the work day.  Getting to San Diego from Washington State by Public transit, Craigslist, and Hitchhiking was a great adventure, but the entire time we were looking towards our next big step: Mexico. But once we had crossed the border, we felt, for the first time, like lost tourists.  We obviously stood out as backpackers and we were pulled aside by well armed Mexican Military men to be searched.

The sun hung low in the sky.  We fumbled around looking for the Bus Station.  We were nervous about who to trust, paranoid of how we stuck out like some sore thumbs.

We were not even sure where we were headed, we just wanted to make it South safely.  Mazatlan was a name that we had seen on advertisements in Portland.  We took a gamble and decided to get tickets there.  We were suspicious of the bus companies and their sales reps and we compared all of their prices.

By wonderful grace, some fellows outside the terminal had overheard Lale’s accent as we were debating buses and wanted to know where she was from.  As we spoke with them, the Chilean miners were being pulled out of the collapsed mine in the Atacama.  The world media was obsessed with “Los 33,” the rescued miners.  The old men warmed up to us and excitedly told us the most recent updates about the Chileans that they heard on the radio.  These men also took care of us and told us to save some money by heading to the Central Bus Terminal in Tijuana.

The problem was that the Central Terminal was across town and we could not walk there safely.  We nervously waved down a taxi.  Our fear came out as awkwardness.  Luckily Lale mentioned the Chilean Miners and like many times on our trip, they were our conversational saving grace. The driver launched into enthusiastically telling us his conspiracy theories of Los 33.

We boarded our bus to Mazatlan as the sun set.  Most of the seats were empty. Surrounding our seat were just three rough looking fellows, each wearing a ‘wife-beater’ tank top.  A taco vendor boarded the bus and rode East with us working up and down the aisle, selling his tamales and tacos.  We declined his offer, our doctor had told us to avoid street food to prevent travel sickness.

The vendor made his way back up the aisle and asked us in Spanish, “Chicken or Beef?”  We were confused and protested that we had not ordered any tacos.  He informed us that our sketchy looking neighbor had paid for us!  Oh man, that was sweet, but why?! Is he trying to fatten us up for the Narcos who are going to blockade the bus at night?  Our paranoid minds raced rapidly as we smiled and said “Muchas Gracias.”

The bus continued East along the border, with the impoverished Tijuana slums  facing a deep, steep, vacant canyon, patrolled by heavily armed and fortified U.S. Border Patrol.  This truly was a frontier. On the Mexican side, humanity crammed on every inch of soil, facing the empty, militarized expanse of Gringolandia. The evening became pitch black and fast food joints and neon bars lit up the night as we traveled away from the frontier.

We settled in for a 30 hour bus ride, prayed for safe travels, and settled into sleep.  We had promised our mothers that we would make it safely home.

Sonoran Sunset

We were awoken abruptly in the middle of the night by Mexican armed forces. They ordered us off the bus and we panicked.  All of the stories of night blockades and fake police checkpoints were racing in our mind.  We were the only foreigners on the bus.  They lined us up inside this concrete building, forcing us to drag our bags from the bus with us.  Heavily armed soldiers watched us sternly.  Confused, we proceeded in the line, which culminated with a push button and a head level stop light.  Folks would push the little button and either would get a green or a red light.  A red light meant you would get dragged aside to be searched and a green told you to get back on the bus.  By the luck of the draw, we both got the green go ahead and scrambled back onto the bus to the safety of our scattered slumber.

As we discovered throughout our travels, the long distance buses of Latin America are luxurious.  The bus had filled by morning with many families as we stopped in small Northern cities.  We all watched bootleg movies with spanish dubbing.

We would stop every few hours to stretch legs and buy snacks or a meal.  These stops were a great time for us to make eye contact and friends with all of our fellow passengers.  It turns out that our sketchy neighbors were absolute sweethearts!  We all climbed back on the bus and shared our snacks and traded stories.

We all had a common purpose, getting home to Mom’s house.  Lale was headed to the South of Chile to see her mother and our three friends were also heading home to see their mothers for the first time in many years.  Each of our buddies had their bus ticket paid by U.S. Homeland Security and was being deported home after serving felony sentences in California.

When we had first encountered these guys, we were purely afraid of them and everything else in the North of Mexico.  By the time we neared their respective hometowns, we actually felt safer having these guys as our travelling companions.

The guy in the seat in front of us traded potato chips and sevillanas and shared his life in California.  He had been raised in L.A. and had not been to Mexico since he was a child.  He was so nervous to see his Mom, he did not know how she would react to him being sent home.  Lale reassured him that his Mother would delight in seeing her long lost child, that he would be her early Christmas gift!  Excitedly, he showed us the present he had brought for his Mother.  He asked “Do you think my Mama will like these photos?”  We looked them over and here was him and his guys posing in prison garb in front of the weight set in the prison yard throwing down their hand signs!  “Oh, your Mom will just be so happy to see you!” was our reassuring response.

View from the Bus

The North of Mexico transformed from the Sonoran desert to lusher regions as we made it South.  We felt more confident as we made it out of the land of the Nortenas.  We waved goodbye to our new friends as they climbed off the bus and were embraced by their waiting families.  As would happen many times on our trip South, our perceptions and stereotypes were challenged by friendliness and hospitality. And now, we were a little less scared.  Real people with real stories had replaced the fearmongering headlines.

Buen Viaje!


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Getting Ready!

We are getting everything wrapped up in Portland and ready to head South again.  This year, we are starting in Colombia and hope to visit the birthplace of Sunday Parkways.  Just like last year, when we traveled from Portland to Puerto Montt, Chile by public transit, we will share news and ideas from the bike lanes of Latin America!

Our plans are a bit ambiguous, but tentatively, we would like to head down to Chile via the Atlantic coast and research biking and transit in Brazil and Argentina. 

We are starting in Colombia because it is a country with such an innovative approach to transit and cycling networks.  We can’t wait to learn more!

Please follow along as we post stories from this trip and lessons from the past investigations.

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Hello from Global Greenways!

Hello! Global Greenways is an organization devoted to investigating and sharing knowledge about the different Social Movements in the Americas for new Urban Mobility and Public Spaces.

We travel from North to South researching bike share systems, innovative transit, cycle route networks, tricycle entrepreneurs, roller derby, and Sunday Parkways.

Please follow us our blog and contribute to the conversations about mobility in the Americas!

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