August 10, 2009

Car Free Sunday Debuts in Buenos Aires

Imagine one of the largest and iconic avenues in Latin America entirely closed to motorized vehicles with children playing happily. On a recent Sunday morning in Buenos Aires on Avenida 9 de Julio and other major streets, where thousands of porteños—as the city residents are called—could be seen exercising, rollerblading, cycling and strolling down streets that are normally clogged with smelly, noisy and dangerous cars and trucks. Following other cities such as Bogotá, Santiago and more recently New York City, the Argentine capital closed major thoroughfares to motor vehicles so residents could enjoy the first-ever Car Free Sunday.

The City of Buenos Aires decided to launch the car-free event despite forecasts of low temperatures for June (approx 5° C, 41° F). Starting in the hip neighborhood of Palermo and stretching over 20+ kilometers, streets and avenues were exclusively designated for walking, riding bicycles and rollerblading. Porteños showed up in droves, enjoying the city’s newly reclaimed public spaces—the streets.

The circuit connected the stately parks of Palermo with 9 de Julio Avenue to the middle-income neighborhood of Boedo in the south. Citizens could choose to participate in a variety of activities organized throughout the day like exercising to techno-music in front of the iconic Buenos Aires obelisk, rollerblading with the entire family, renting a bike from “La Bicicleta Naranja,” playing soccer or just strolling around with the kids.
Map of planned bikeways

The Municipality of Buenos Aires also engaged in another initiative to increase bicycle use and promote high-quality public spaces by developing a Bicycle Master Plan. The proposed bike network will link the 3 main train stations of the city to the downtown business district, as well as some of the most important Universities. Irala Street will have the first cycle lane and will be a model for other cycle lane developments. Physical segregation from cars, new signaling and detailed design will reduce conflicts and encourage everyone to start riding their bicycles.

The infrastructure under construction will become an essential part of a planned public bicycle system. With more than 3 million people living in Buenos Aires and some 3 million commuting into the city for work every day from the suburbs, there is a need for efficient transport options. Buenos Aires has a flat topography and relatively mild weather conditions that make cycling an excellent option for the millions of short trips made every day in the city.

One of ITDP’s main programs in Buenos Aires is to provide technical assistance to the municipality on developing the Bicycle Master Plan, its public bike system, and organizing events like Car Free Sundays, while encouraging all other sustainable transport initiatives.

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