Way back in 2000, before car-free days were on most people's radars, Bogotá, Colombia Mayor Enrique Peñalosa organized Bogotá's first car-free day. He also put up a proposal for it to be a permanent occasion. The proposal was approved, marking the approval of "the world's first Car Free Referendum," according to Wikipedia. 14 years later, it seems like it's time for an upgrade.
Mejor en Bici (translation: Better on Bike) is a local bike organization that has long been a key advocate of car-free day. Recently, it pushed for car-free day to be extended into an entire car-free week for the Colombian city. The city agreed. Now, the first-ever Bogotá car-free week (February 6–13) has just wrapped up. These were the specific routes that were completely closed to cars:
"This weeklong extension shows that Bogotá’s bicycling infrastructure is strong enough to where the economy’s vibrancy does not have to be compromised for the country’s sustainability initiatives," Rachel Jaffe of TheCityFix writes. "Other developing countries should follow Bogotá’s example and seek out ways in which sustainable transport can simultaneously help economic, health, and development goals."
Sounds good, but... how about developed countries do the same?! These is needed in developed countries as much as anywhere.
This is a tremendous move by Bogotá. I'd love to visit during car-free week to get a sense for how this week really looks in the city of 7 million. How wide does its influence really extend? From a short glimpse in this video below, it seems that car-free day typically has a massive impact, with about 600,000 cars being left at home on that day. It is reportedly the largest car-free weekday event in the world.
Surely, getting a taste for a car-free life on certain corridors makes people thirst for more. The quality of life in such places improves by leaps and bounds. Cleaner air, quieter streets, more adequate exercise, more human interactions, a cleaner conscience, and the list goes on.
"According to one Colombian newspaper, residents of Bogotá lose approximately 22 days per year in traffic," Jaffe writes. "These residents also lost 570 people to traffic fatalities in 2013. Although the city has made great strides in economic development, the loss in life that this economic growth has come with has been harsh. This car-free week is a turning point for Bogotá’s residents that it is time to start gaining—gaining time back from sitting in traffic, better air quality, and happier and longer lives."
Who doesn't want all that?
I was very excited to hear about this weeklong extension of a car-free program, but I'm even more excited to see where it leads. How will it help Bogotá to even further distance itself from the majority of the world's cities as a leading bicycle city? What will citizens, organizations, and the government push for next?
“It is proven that bicycling makes people feel happier and, above all, improves your income, because when you ride, you lose less time in traffic and less money,” emphasizes Diego Ospina Casto, Mejor en Bici manager.
Those key points are what grow good bike cities into great bike cities.