August 01, 2011

The Future of Cycling in Mexico City

On July 28th David Byrne brought the “Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Mobility” tour to Mexico City. For the final night of the tour and book launch for the Spanish language edition of Bicycle Diaries, the singer and ITDP Mexico rounded up a powerful team of government officials, urban planners and advocates, who had a spirited conversation that lasted for over two hours, in front of an audience of hundreds in person, and nearly 2000 more that streamed the event from their computers.

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The evening was moderated by Julio Trujillo, from CONACULTA (Mexico’s National Council for Culture and the Arts); who asked the panelists to discuss how perceptions of urban transportation affect the way we build and live in the city: do we want cities for cars, which exclude people, or for bike and pedestrian, to give peace and life to our streets. Bernardo Baranda, ITDP Regional Director for Latin America, talked about the need to increase government funding in order to promote cycling in Mexico and Latin America. ITDP launched the 5% for Bikes campaign last week in cooperation with the National Network of Urban Cycling (BiCiRA). The campaign calls for governments to commit at least 5% of the transportation budget to the creation of quality cycling infrastructure, and promotion of a culture of respect for cyclists. The campaign’s end goal is for cycling to become an essential part of urban transportation networks, not just something for exercise or recreation.

?The next panelist, Jose Castillo, urban planner and founding partner of Architecture 911SC, said, “The car transforms us into beasts.” His presentation emphasized that one of our biggest challenges is to break with the idea that transportation and mobility should focus on the private car.?

Then Felipe Leal, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development’s Federal District, talked about how to use better urban planning, including densification and mixed use, to improve mobility and create more space for people to enjoy. The Secretary, also said it is extremely important to ensure that the city’s sustainable vision transcends administrations, in order to have time to complete big projects. Leal’s presentation also showed how streets could be used more efficiently, by giving space to Bus Rapid Transit and cyclists, the streets can be used to transport more people, even if fewer cars access them.

Finally, the moment that the audience was waiting for, David Byrne took to the podium with slides and stories of his travels, exploring how we can re-use space that is currently allocated to cars. By creating more space for pedestrians and cyclists we will encourage people to go into the streets more, and foster stronger communities. When the streets are full of life the city becomes more enjoyable and safe. “We don’t need security cameras,” said Byrne, “but rather more people-friendly spaces in cities.”

The event was carried live online by the blog Pajamas Surf, and created a buzz on many social networks.

Though Mexico City was the last stop on the tour, it is just the beginning of the 5% for Bikes Campaign.  The campaign is also very active on Twitter, using the #5porciento hashtag.

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