Can Bogotá solve its traffic/transportation problem?

Bogotá, Colombia has almost everything to become a great tourist destination. All that remains is solving its traffic problems. Photo: Traffic in Bogota never sleeps

BOGOTA, Colombia, May 29, 2013 – The streets of Bogotá have never kept up with traffic. The old down town with its narrow streets and lack of credible parking enforcement is a nightmare. Even the new neighborhoods and multiple wide avenues suffer from over congestion.

With its wonderful, spring like weather, terrific location, museums, historic sites, great restaurants, and courteous citizens, Bogotá could be a prime destination in the world. What stops it? Traffic.

Progressive and not so progressive municipal administrations have tried over the years to remedy this ailment. At one time trucks were banned from entering the city at certain times during the day.

To this day there is a ban on half of the private cars from entering the city on each weekday, wide avenues have been constructed to funnel cars in and out of the city, bike routes have been built on almost all main thoroughfares called “cycle-routes” (ciclo rutas) and more. The largest and most effective measure taken to control the traffic in Bogotá has been the creation of a mass transit system called “Trans Milenio” (trans millennium).

One of the famous bike lanes Photo: M. Salazar

Since the last decade of the last century, a ban on half of private vehicles has been implemented by selecting the last digits of a vehicle’ license tag. On even dates, tags ending in even numbers are restricted, on odd dates those ending in odd digits are restricted.

All garages, private and public, and parking lots publish these numbers daily in a frame in which numbers are changed each workday. The public refers to this system as “pico y placa,” roughly translated as last number and license tag.

Taking to Bikes Solves Part of the Problem

Paradoxically, the result has seen a boom in automobile sales in which upper middle class buyers insist on getting a license tag ending in even numbers if their first car’s license ends in odd number and vice versa. It is not unusual to see a home with two, three or more cars in their garage/drive way. This was never the case only a decade ago. While this system prevents all the vehicles in a home to be on the road during rush hour, it is not as efficient as it could be.

The so called “cyclo routes” program has been fairly effective. One sees these routes on the wide sidewalks of new avenues and on the medium strip. During dry weather a significant portion of the population bikes to work. Many claim that the riders get to work faster by this mode of transportation over short distances. However, this pales in comparison on what occurs on weekends and holidays.

On these days, known as “ciclovia” days; the city closes hundreds of miles of its arterial streets and surrenders them to the bikers. In excess of one million people crowd the closed streets to ride, jog, walk, and exercise. Fitness stations are set along the routes to encourage exercise, good nutrition and, in general, good health. Food stations and entertainment are also provided. While this measure may not lessen traffic, it is an excellent way to encourage exercising and may contribute the increased use of bikes as transportation.

Trans Milenio May Offer A Global Answer

Transmilenio Walkway Photo: M. Salazar

During the 1990s, a forward-looking administration in Bogotá came up with a solution to its mass transit problems. At that time multiple bus companies and independent operators competed for the citizens’ fares. The situation was more than chaotic and was also very inefficient.

The solution consisted in creating a consortium with the existing bus companies. A planning board came up with the routes that the system would have, the type of stations, the type of vehicles, and its connecting, feed and distribution routes.

Once the types of buses were decided on, all public transportation companies were given the opportunity to purchase buses, hire conductors and participate in the system. Revenue from the system is distributed according to participation and estimates on the relative ridership of each bus.

This idea resolved two critical issues: it decreased the opposition of the bus companies by giving them a chance to participate and it funded a big portion of the costs of the system. Fares are only around $1 USD for each trip, regardless of how long it is. This has to be the cheapest public transportation in the world.

This system has been seen as a model for affordable public transportation in the world. Experts from all over the world are received frequently to inspect it and take the idea back to their cities.

MORE ABOUT COLOMBIA: The legend of El Dorado and Bogotá as a successful tourist destination

Sadly, there is evidence that after a rash of creativity that saw cyclo routes, ciclovia and Tran Milenio flourish, new administrations have been less that fully supportive of these improvements. Citizens that I talked to indicate that the new administrations don’t see these projects as their legacy and may not have taken full ownership.

A sibling rivalry between Bogotá and Medellín, the second largest city in Colombia, has brought the idea of building a subway system in the former to catch up with the latter. Countless studies have been paid to determine feasibility. Obstacles to subways are the soils in the area and the wetlands that are common to Bogotá.

It seems that the quality of life in Bogotá is now reaching a crisis and that the traffic problem will have to be resolved before Bogotá can fully benefit from the tourist dollar. Even if this is not a priority, the city’s residents deserve a rational transportation system that continues to keep pace with the population and urban expansion.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, Environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles - ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket - in 21st Century Pacifist <> at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.

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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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