Bright Bogota

Colombia, seen through the lens of America’s news media, is a
disaster area terrorized by brutal drug lords, crazed
revolutionaries, and trigger-happy soldiers. Yet a closer look
shows it is a place that can offer North Americans inspiration on
how to improve urban life. Bogota, Colombia’s capital city of 7
million, has won worldwide praise for initiatives on curtailing
auto traffic and creating innovative social services.

‘The sweeping transformation of Bogota redefined what a city can
be,’ reports Sustainable Transport (Fall 2002).
‘Bogota has set a new standard for urban livability and
efficiency.’

The city sports 155 miles of bike paths, the largest network in
Latin America, as well as the world’s longest corridor of
pedestrian streets, which run 12 miles from one end to the other.
An acclaimed transit system, in which commuters move about the city
on buses travelling on their own special roadways, outpaces private
autos for ease and speed. And on Sundays, 95 miles of major avenues
are closed to traffic and an estimated 2 million residents come out
to enjoy a car-free day in the streets.

On top of the obvious environmental benefits, Bogota’s
transportation initiatives have fostered creative social programs
funded in part by the city but run by nonprofit organizations. The
Car-Free Sundays are coordinated by more than 1,400 teenage
volunteers, equipped with whistles and hand-held stop signs, who
direct the throngs of non-motorized traffic, gaining valuable
leadership experience in the process. Over the rest of the week,
the city is dotted with ‘Civic Guides’ in sharp blue-and-orange
uniforms who offer people assistance and information about using
the bus system and bikeways. These guides-many of whom were once
drug users or prostitutes-receive two meals a day, counseling
sessions, a small paycheck, and the chance to build confidence and
social skills as productive members of society. They also aid in
recycling projects, assist the homeless, and monitor safety in
public places.

Another ambitious effort that boosts the leadership skills of
young people is the Eco-Neighborhoods projects, where ‘Eco-Leaders’
aged 15 to 25 ‘take responsibility for educating and aiding their
communities on leading greener lifestyles.’

‘The greatest lesson learned from Bogota’s experience,’
Sustainable Transport concludes, ‘is that engaged
citizens, as much as changes to the urban form, can drive the
metamorphosis of a city. . . . Bogota proves the adage that ‘people
make the city’.’

Sustainable Transport chronicles efforts around the world to
provide people with alternatives to the auto. Focused particularly
on the developing world and Eastern Europe, where autos do not yet
dominate transportation choices, this magazine is filled with
inspiring news of projects asserting the rights of bicyclists,
pedestrians, and transit-riders. It is published quarterly by the
Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a New
York-based organization advocating for greener and more equitable
transportation policies around the world. Subscriptions: $20/yr. (4
issues) from ITDP, 115 W. 30th St., Suite 1205, New York, NY
10001;. www.itdp.org

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