July 18, 2011

The Cities, Bicycles and Mobility tour stops in Buenos Aires

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David Byrne was in Buenos Aires yesterday, his second of nine stops on the Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Mobility tour.  The day began with a mid-morning event attended by city officials and non-profit groups,where eight organizations, including Greenpeace Argentina and FARN, signed a letter calling on the City to dedicate at least 5% of the city’s transportation budget to improving cycling and handed it directly over to City Mayor Mauricio Macri.

After the Mayor received the letter, the city’s Transportation Secretary Guillermo Dietrich, along with ITDP staff, went for a bike ride with David, highlighting the new bicycle infrastructure that has been built since David last visited three years ago. After the ride David commented that the city has come a long way and that it is definitely more bike friendly, but that there was still much work to be done.

That evening at Ciudad Cultural Konex, a renovated oil factory and popular cultural venue in Buenos Aires, David presented along with architect Emiliano Espasandin, local cycling advocate Federico Stellato and Secretary of Transportation for the City of Buenos Aires Guillermo Dietrich.  David talked about how his love of cities and bikes began as a child, growing up in the monotonous and dreary landscape of the U.S. suburbs; “Growing up in a residential neighborhood was boring, I like big cities.”  Byrne delved into city life, touching on urban theory, architecture, pedestrian issues and of course, biking. “In order for it to be safer there needs to be lanes specifically for bikes.  When there are more bikers, the city is safer.”

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Secretary Dietrich followed Byrne’s presentation, elaborating on how street and city design has made cyclists an afterthought for generations, “Our cities were designed without a single thought for cyclists, without even a centimeter of space given over to those that work and commute by bike.”  Secretary Dietrich lauded the city’s Mejor en Bici (Better by Bike) program for making Buenos Aires much more bike friendly byconstructing dozens of miles of bike lanes in some of the busiest parts of the city, launching the bike share system and encouraging people to cycle to work and to university.

Federico Stellato followed Secretary Dietrich and talked about his personal experience as a bike commuter in Buenos Aires. Stellato extolled the time and cost savings of cycling, as well as its health benefits. Stellato estimates that he saves 176 hours annually by riding his bike, the equivalent of a two week vacation, and $550 pesos (about $133 USD), leaving him more time and money to spend with his family.

The final presentation was given by PALO architect and radio host Emiliano Espasandin, who discussed the history and future of Buenos Aires, emphasizing the city’s rich architectural heritage and walkability, “One can start in downtown and walk to Palermo and just keep walking.  Despite its faults, we live in an incredibly walkable and beautiful city.”
Espasandin added, “The street should not only be for transportation, but rather that life should occur there, we must return to the street.”

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