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[Listen to an audio version of this blog entry here.]

In an email newsletter earlier this year from the conservative Colombian journalist, Ricardo Galán, in customary reproachful fashion, he berated Bogotá’s cyclists for daring to use roads, as he put it, designated for motorised vehicles.

Bogotá's biking blues

Many of Bogotá’s cycle lanes are more like obstacle courses.

His chief point was that with over 500 kilometres, and counting, of permanent cycle lanes in the city, bike riders should stick to those routes.

A lane excuse
Considering how chaotic Colombia’s roads and, more specifically, its drivers are (see https://wwcorrigan.blogspot.com/2022/05/colombias-aggressive-driver-mentality.html), one can see his point, even if it seemed that the safety of cyclists wasn’t Galán’s chief concern.

He appeared to view them as nothing more than a nuisance, like a pesky housefly that needs swatting aside. (In fairness, some cyclists do push the boundaries, in keeping with the anything-goes, selfish mentality that many road users display here.)

No doubt Bogotá’s authorities would largely concur with Galán, that the city’s cycle lanes are more than adequate and push-bike users should stick to them.

The capital’s PR people — regardless of the creed of the mayor at any given time — love to boast of Bogotá’s bicycle-specific infrastructure and its famed ciclovía. (The latter is an initiative that sees many streets in the city closed off to traffic for a few hours on Sundays and public holidays, allowing citizens to walk, run, cycle and even dance on them without having to worry about those murderous metal motors.)

‘Some of these lanes are in such a state of disrepair and/or ineptly engineered that they’d be a challenge for an armoured tank, never mind a bicycle.’

The problem is, the actual condition and layout of sections of these cycle lanes leave a lot to be desired. They’re more like obstacle courses rather than well-kept paths.

In some places, to borrow an observation from a friend, it’s a case of simply painting the footpath/road and labelling it as a cycle lane. This looks great on paper and for marketing purposes. It’s quite another thing actually navigating such routes.

Mighty motorists
Challenges vary from trying to avoid pedestrians, street vendors and vehicular traffic to dealing with dangerous and damaging uneven surfaces, unnecessarily steep ramps and poorly constructed intersections.

Indeed, some parts are in such a state of disrepair and/or ineptly engineered that they’d be a challenge for an armoured tank, never mind a bicycle.

Building up and maintaining momentum is next to impossible. The wear and tear on one’s bike is significant.

Thus, it’s not surprising that regular cyclists, particularly those who have more delicate units, take to the roads, willingly putting their lives at a greater risk.

Cycle lanes in a state of disrepair in Bogotá, Colombia.

‘After a while, they’ll level themselves out.’

Now some motorists may say that the state of the highways and byways is also shocking. Fair point. Yet by virtue of the larger size of these roads, for a cyclist there’s often more scope to avoid the various pitfalls. There are also more opportunities to build up speed, to make steady progress.

So while the “cheeky cyclist” weaving in and out of traffic may anger many motorists, it’s not simply for an adrenaline rush that some take this option. All things considered, it’s seen as the least bad choice.

Where roads are regularly shared, as far as I’m concerned priority should be given to pedestrians/wheelchair users first. Cyclists and those on similar vehicles come second with motorists third.

In Colombia, however, that order is reversed. Purchased power tends to trump human endeavour across the board.

In many ways, it’s just the way of the world.
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.

Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan — The Blog & IQuiz “The Bogotá Pub Quiz”.

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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