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Day Without a Car in Bogota

 By Rodrigo Pardo  Thursday, February 4, 2010

imageHow is this possible? Incredibly for a Latin American city of over six million inhabitants, stop moving one million three hundred thousand vehicles.

Every year during the first Thursday of February is done in Bogota for Clean Air Day, popularly known as the “day without a car.” On this day Bogotanos leave their private cars at home and develop their activities normally travel on public transport or cycling. Stop moving in practice something like one million three hundred thousand vehicles. How is this possible? Incredibly for a Latin American city of over six million inhabitants, this initiative - which this week will be held for the eleventh time - was enacted by popular vote through a referendum. But we start from the beginning.

The first “Car Free Day” was held in Bogotá on 24 February 2000, from a mayoral decree of the mayor of Bogota Enrique Peñaloza the time, where it restricted the movement of motor vehicles in the city in the hours between 6:30 and 7:30. PM. This first experience but was not without its detractors and inconvenience for motorists, reached wide acceptance due to low levels substantive gas pollution and noise, besides the increase in travel speeds through the city.

Since the success of this first experience, the mayor called for a referendum by October of that year, registered voters in the electorate of Bogotá, to decide on the themes of Car Free Day from 2001 and Restriction vehicles from 2015.

The outcome of the consultation was acceptance of the two measurements and resulted in the issuance of Decree 1098 of 2000 which states “to prohibit the movement of motor vehicles in the city of Bogota on the first Thursday of February every year hours between 6:30 am and 7:30 pm “Along with this was set a fine on those who violate this prohibition of movement, which currently amounts to about $ 130.

Thus, the Car Free Day has been taking place in Bogota since February 2000 in order to motivate people to use alternative means of transport such as cycling and promote its benefits in terms of health, mobility and savings fuels.

The car-free day is an initiative originally proposed as a fuel saving measure prompted by the oil crisis of the seventies, which later took an environmental nature in European countries, where car use is massive and generates pollution problems in ozone and CO. Unlike Bogota initiative is done in late September each year. The first World No Car Day was organized in Europe in 1999 and was the pilot for the campaign “In town without my car.” This campaign continues today as the European Mobility Week.

Here in Chile has been presented since 2000 by the pro bike riders and groups, and since 2009 is to become an official call from Bill that Encourages the Use, Development and Integration of the Bicycle , that President Bachelet sent Congress last July. It was in this context that the last World No Car Day held on September 22 became an event coordinated activities in cities of at least 11 regions of the country, including Rancagua.

One of the things I most admired generates what happens in Bogota - without of course the Recreational Ciclovía Sundays and holidays - is the political fact of having achieved the popular support of the measure through a referendum won by a large majority. This fact makes the Bogotá Car Free Day in global activity increased citizen participation, since while in other cities in the world are closed only the main avenues (when it occurs) for the movement of bicycles, buses and pedestrians, in Bogota prohibiting the use of all private vehicles throughout the city limits.

It also means that this measure could only be reversed by a democratic process equivalent to that generated it, a situation that somehow detracts floor to criticism from his detractors.

In our country we have chosen the path of the law to provide a legal tool that would support in particular the promotion of the use of non-motorized means for transportation in cities. Recall that the above mentioned project proposes to establish September 22 as National Day Without Cars, thereby adhering to the network of cities and nations that held simultaneously around the world. But the big challenge - and if the law was actually adopted as is outlined thus far - is how our cities and local governments will be able hereafter to achieve a day without cars in which effectively restricts motor traffic, or if you like, open the streets for people. This, aware that DMSA is not far from a panacea but a very good way of conveying a message in practice and the need to save all the distances necessary to land on local realities. It is worth to note that Bogota has a network of 354 kilometers of bicycle paths and public transport quite efficient, and Ranchi (for example) is far from a metropolitan area while concentrating many people accessing services between San Francisco city of Mostazal and Rengo, at least.

But then Bogota Car Free Day is still working day and yet the city still operating. She is also indicators that demonstrate the benefits of replacing, even if eventually, motorized transport by other means.

Evaluations of previous days show considerable increases in turnover rates, with increases of 15% in average velocity with respect to that of a normal day. The bike paths, in turn, had an increase in use by 60% with an average speed of 12.3 km. per hour. Pollution in the city from mobile sources reported a significant decrease since reported a 75.3% lower levels of carbon monoxide and 11% lower levels of nitrogen dioxide. This also decreased significantly the traffic accidents with serious consequences.

During the last days of November, while we conducted the campaign to collect signatures National Pact for the bike in Rancagua, I had occasion to converse with many people on the issue of cycling in the city, some for others, some cyclists other for any reason, and almost invariably came to the issue of education and cultural elements that would enable the adoption of some practices citizen. I think that’s very true to some extent, but I also believe two other factors that are key for this to become reality in a city like ours and probably like any other.

One is a strong political will of local leaders and a willingness to change the people they insist, give them the confidence vote. Otherwise we can not explain why, in this case, an initiative that good man’s eye is unpopular, is capable of winning at the polls. Well different is simply not believing in the value of participatory democracy.

Finally note that Bogotanos are not so different from us and we, that Bogotá is not the moon or in the Netherlands, and its socio-economic reality and cultural policy does not differ much from ours.

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