MEXICO CITY – In a place as crowded as this sprawling metropolis of 21 million with an estimated 3.5 million vehicles, local government has started to push cycling as a way to improve mobility throughout the city.
“Studies have shown that around the world people on average use the bike for between 30-45 minutes, in which time you can cover around 8 kilometers (4.9 miles),” said Tanya Müller, municipal director of Urban Reforestation, Parks and Bicycle Paths in Mexico City. “[In Mexico City], 50% of journeys made are less than 8 kilometers, so the bike sometimes becomes more efficient than the car.”
In order to help cyclists navigate this ever-growing city, the Mexico City Government has also recently released the Urban Cyclist Manual, which provides comprehensive guidance for cyclists in the city – a move to help promote cycling as a viable method of transport.
ECOBICI provides stations around the city where users can borrow a bike using their ECOBICI card, later leaving the bike at any station in the network.
Since the installation of the first ECOBICI stations in February 2010, the number of bicycle trips has increased by 40%, with about 100,000 trips made daily by more than 30,000 cyclists, according to Mexico City’s government.
The network has a six-week waiting list for those wishing to apply for membership.
Müller helped coordinate the development of cycle lanes for the ECOBICI project.
One of the biggest surprises of the ECOBICI plan has been the demographic spread of its users, Müller said.
While most participants are between 25 and 30 years old, many 45-to-60-year-olds are also participating in large numbers, Müller added.
Indeed, such is the success of the ECOBICI that phase 2 and 3 will begin in 2012, when 186 miles of bike paths will be created throughout the city and 2,800 bikes will be added to the network, catering to an estimated 49,000 users – more than doubling the current tally, Müller said.
Live longer, cut pollution
The new emphasis in cycling in Mexico City represents a return to times more familiar to Armando González.
An avid cyclist at 74, he joins with cycling group Bicitekas every Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the iconic Independence Angel statue in Reforma Avenue to cycle the city at night.
González, who has cycled his whole life in Mexico City, said riding a bike is safer and more practical than driving a car.
“Those who work close to home should cycle to work and as such, help cut down on pollution,” he said.
Yet, cyclists still struggle to find their way in the city’s chaotic traffic as bicycle-only lanes are scarce.
Cycling enthusiast Ivette Sánchez, 32, said the government should “invest more in well thought-out cycle lanes.”
“While advances have been made, many cycle lanes do not link up to create proper networks, thus failing to facilitate cycling in the city,” Sánchez said.
Her criticism echoes a growing movement of citizens applying pressure on the government to consider city cycling as an initiative worth serious investment.
The 5% campaign, a civil society initiative that asks federal, state and local governments to set aside 5% of the transportation budget to developing and supporting cycling, has received great coverage on social media and has spurred the so-called “wikicarril,” an initiative where members of pro-cycling organizations have painted cycle lanes on roads throughout the city.
Meantime, transeunte.org is an online source aiming to create a forum for mobility and better urban living in Mexico.
Jorge A. Gordillo Matalí, member of transeúnte, said it is important to implement provisions for cyclists in order to improve the quality of life for everyone living in the nation’s capital, where it’s common for many to spend “two hours a day stuck in traffic.”
“We can create more enjoyable cities and reclaim public spaces and see people walking and cycling more,” Gordillo Matalí said.
But Müller said a lot more work needs to be done to make Mexico City a more habitable space, despite the success of the ECOBICI program.
“We have to invest [in alternative transport], not just to promote greater equality, but to ensure a better and healthier future for all,” she added.