Active mobility modes like walking and cycling have seen major increases during the Covid-19 pandemic as citizens look for safer, socially distanced modes of travel and cities work to accommodate. From Berlin to Bogotá, cities have implemented pop-up bike lanes, but most in the mobility sector would like to see this cheaper, safer, and greener form of transit become permanent, but they face opposition.
Bogotá in particular has become famous for its bicycle-friendliness over the last year. In the second week of March, the city added about 100km of bike lanes, nearly doubling the amount of bike lanes already in place. Nicolas Estupinan, Bogotá’s Secretary of Mobility, has lauded the success of this campaign, and is thinking about next steps. He says that the best way to face opposition to keeping new bike lanes is to present them with data that shows how active mobility has increased significantly as a result of the new lanes.
“Our main effort is saying that Bogotá has learned that it can move in a different manner,” says Estupinan. “We’ve observed some interesting and notable changes. For example, we have an emblematic corridor here called Carrera Septima. In 2019, at peak hour, we had less than 50 cyclists per hour. In that corridor we added 20km of pop-up bike lanes, and now at peak hour, we have observed an almost equal number of cyclists as vehicles, almost 1000 cyclists.”
It’s not surprising that people have taken to biking in Bogotá, pandemic notwithstanding. The city is incredibly dense, with many connections between origins and destinations, and anyone who’s been on a jam-packed Bogotá bus could easily understand the desire to make use of new bike lanes.
“Prior to Covid, in Bogotá, 6.5% of people were using their bikes on any given day,” he says. “Now it’s more like 11%. We need to keep monitoring the data, but if the numbers are suggesting that people are really happy with the pop-up lanes, they will stay. We are convinced this is the way for Bogotá to become a more just and clean city.”
Estupinan and Mayor Claudia López Hernández are facing pressure from traditional stakeholders who aren’t happy with this new distribution of public space. But they’re not the ones who are affected by an inequitable and inefficient mobility scheme. Before the pandemic, low-income households would dedicate 26% to 28% of their income to transportation, which clearly makes the cost of transportation a burden. Aside from having a conversation about making changes to public transit fares, encouraging biking in the city could provide the most vulnerable households with a viable, cheap transportation option.
So for cities that want to turn a short-term intervention into a long-term transformation, Estupinan says to measure everything constantly.
“The data is going to be defending the interventions,” he says. “It’s very clean and transparent to put all the data forward. We can tell people that we had X number of cyclists before and now we have Y, which is an increased number of people benefiting from the new distribution of public space.”
“We need to take risks. We need to know that we’re not going to get it right the first time, but if we’re going down the right path, then all this data and interventions can be adjusted.”