Ciclovia: Open Streets Throughout Latin America

A confident young participant in San Francisco de Porro.

Ciclovia is a Latin American phenomena originating over 30 years ago in Bogotà, Colombia, where some streets are closed to allow people to walk, cycle, skate or stroll without traffic. Or, as the advocates would say, Ciclovias "open" the streets to people. Today, Bogotà regularly sees up to one million people using the 100 kilometers of streets without traffic.

Ciclovia is something of a social movement, with over 350 cities "opening" up streets every week throughout Latin America. Even some North American cities have gotten into the act, with Portland's Sunday Parkways leading the way, and Los Angeles' CicLAvia, New York's SummerStreets and even El Paso joining in. The Ciclovias Recreativas of the Americas (CRA) is a loose network of bicycle advocates, public health officials and recreation enthusiasts that provides technical support and encouragement for cities to put on Ciclovias.

One of the CRA's founders, Enrique Jacoby, is a high official in the Pan American Health Organization, the western hemisphere's branch of the World Health Organization. Mr. Jacoby is from Peru, has served in the Health Ministry there, and is a fervent opponent of junk food and the sedentary lifestyle enforced by urban design favoring motor vehicles. While with the Peruvian Health Ministry, he pushed through laws securing the rights of cyclists and funding Ciclovias throughout Peru.

I was in Lima for the 8th Congress of the CRA, held in conjunction with the Peruvian conference for the promotion of physical education. Linda Ginenthal from the City of Portland came to speak about Portland's Sunday Parkways. She told the audience that Portland doesn't want to have a Ciclovia every week -- Sunday Parkways are seen as an invitation to people to try out cycling, maybe with their kids to school, while focusing on making more streets bicycle friendly. In addition to hearing about the many Ciclovias in Peru, I also got to ride a lot. Look for another post soon on my experiences

Members of the CRA on a closed road on a military base.

If you have ever visited a Latin American city, you will understand why the Ciclovia is such a welcome relief and so popular. Despite high priced gasoline ($8 per gallon in Peru) traffic is heavy, drivers pay little or no attention to pedestrians and cyclists and sidewalks narrow and bike facilities few and far between. Much of the traffic is commercial -- taxis, private bus and micro-buses -- all racing as they compete for customers. The right side of the road is a dangerous place, with the constant pulling-over of these to pick up and drop off riders. What cyclists there are survive by sneaking their way on side streets or sidewalks (during my one-week stay in Lima, one driver actually stopped for me as I cycled by. This was so unusual I was shocked!)

Ciclovias provide a welcome respite from the noise, danger and dirt. In addition, many cities have few public parks especially in the exploding edge developments. Ciclovias provide a safe place to play and meet one's neighbors, as well. At least one day a week.

While it would be awesome to see one million cycles riding down Sandy from Troutdale to the East Bank Esplanade, Portland's experience in making cycling safe every day is the envy of our cycling friends to the South.