Mexico City: Cycle Tracks & Bike Culture

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I saw two types of very-low-cost cycle track barriers while I was in Mexico city.   The first is essentially a concrete molded form.  The second is the standard parking stop-bar made out of plastic. 

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Both are bolted to the pavement.  With the addition of some plastic bollards to demark the lane in snowy weather, they are simple and low cost way to make a cycle track.

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Mexico City also has a very popular bike-sharing system.  It’s brilliantly simple to use, but get your card (or arrange to borrow one as I did) before you get there.  There is no tourist pass.

Bike Culture

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People who couldn’t afford a car have always biked in Mexico.  but now the majority of riders are  middle-class intelligentsia.  Below, a suit on a shared bike.

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There are lots of women on bikes too.  Probably more than in the Boston area where I live.   With a relaxed cycling pace, no one needs a helmet.

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To the left, a bike on a balcony in the trendy Condesa neigh-borhood.

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An artsy bike rack on Avenida Insurgentes.

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Merida "Courteous Mass"

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Most cyclists have heard of critical mass where cyclists take back the streets. 


Earlier this month I got to take part in a weekly bike ride in Merida Mexico.  Every Wednesday about 1000 people go on a 6 mile bike ride around the City.  This ride is different in that riders actually do share the road.

The event starts with an introduction of how to ride safely, how to share the road, why they’re doing it (no bike facilities here yet) and what to expect.  They have about 30 people going up cycle-hurd on bikes making sure people are well behaved and blocking all cars from interfering with the group.  They are like human sheep dogs keeping everyone to the right and stopping both cars and bikes when appropriate.  

When the cyclists ride by an intersection with waiting cars, all the riders yell “thank you” to the car drivers for waiting.  Also, there’s a lot of Good Evenings (Buenos Noches) to  by-standers and gawkers.

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Also, at the three mile mark there’s about 1/2 hour rest at a park where food vendors sell all manner of sandwiches and drinks.  This part of the ride is the “date night” part of the night where people who have been eying each other during the ride say hello.

The group posts photos of the blog here.   you’ll see mostly average young people with no helmets.  Lots of people rented bikes at the beginning.  I saw kids as young as 8 riding on their own as well as a fare number of working class Mexicans.

Beyond CicloTurixes, there’s also an incredibly popular Sunday CicloRuta:


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Merida "Courteous Mass"

Picture

Most cyclists have heard of critical mass where cyclists take back the streets. 


Earlier this month I got to take part in a weekly bike ride in Merida Mexico.  Every Wednesday about 1000 people go on a 6 mile bike ride around the City.  This ride is different in that riders actually do share the road.

The event starts with an introduction of how to ride safely, how to share the road, why they’re doing it (no bike facilities here yet) and what to expect.  They have about 30 people going up cycle-hurd on bikes making sure people are well behaved and blocking all cars from interfering with the group.  They are like human sheep dogs keeping everyone to the right and stopping both cars and bikes when appropriate.  

When the cyclists ride by an intersection with waiting cars, all the riders yell “thank you” to the car drivers for waiting.  Also, there’s a lot of Good Evenings (Buenos Noches) to  by-standers and gawkers.

Picture

Also, at the three mile mark there’s about 1/2 hour rest at a park where food vendors sell all manner of sandwiches and drinks.  This part of the ride is the “date night” part of the night where people who have been eying each other during the ride say hello.

The group posts photos of the blog here.   you’ll see mostly average young people with no helmets.  Lots of people rented bikes at the beginning.  I saw kids as young as 8 riding on their own as well as a fare number of working class Mexicans.

Beyond CicloTurixes, there’s also an incredibly popular Sunday CicloRuta:


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Merida Mexico: Beauty and the Beast

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Can a city be beautiful and harsh on pedestrians at the same time?  Before visiting Merida I would have said no.  Any city that is beautiful, must be first and foremost a good walking City.  
The colonial architecture is amazing. Merida was  founded on the site of Mayan temple in the early 16th century by Spanish Conquistadors.   The historic center is crossed by an almost perfect grid of one way streets.  The city parks are beautifully landscaped, and draw residents and visitors alike for an awesome people-watching experience.

At some point in the City’s history, the City made a decision to maximize the road space devoted to cars and minimize sidewalk widths.  This has created an awful pedestrian environment on almost all of the streets in the historic center.  In some places there is less than 2 feet for a pedestrian to walk.  This is coupled with the almost perfectly straight mostly one-way gridded streets that allow cars to get up to 40 or 50KM between lights.  

In addition to the speeding traffic whizzing within inches of the many pedestrians, a good percentage of the cars and busses in the City are poorly maintained.  This creates a noxious mix of  air and noise pollution.  This leads to the strange mix of a terrible pedestrian environment and a beautiful city.  

There are some fairly easy fixes to the problem that could improve the situation for pedestrians radically.  This would involve the City reclassifying some of the streets as pedestrian priority (PP) streets.  In a PP street, the car would be the guest and would be expected to defer to pedestrians walking on them, just as the pedestrian now to defers to the car on almost all streets in Merida Center now.

I did find one cross alley in Merida has been closed to cars.   Cars could possibly use this space, but the message would be “this is pedestrian street”.
As seen above Merida does have experience with building excellent pedestrian environments.   

Furthermore, in the short term, could do many low cost treatments to slow traffic and create shared PP streets.  These include making some of the current one way streets two way and even having  opposing one way streets that force drivers to turn instead of being able to go straight.  Essentially the PP streets would break up connectivity for cars while maintaining connections for pedestrians and bicyclists. Residents and businesses would be able to access the streets with cars for loading and parking, but their speeds would be low.

Important design features would be needed to slow traffic.  Planting trees in the street would do much to slow traffic and bring much needed shade to the streets of Merida.  Bike lanes also narrow travel lanes and slow traffic.  Furthermore businesses could be encouraged to move seating in to the street (something Merida is very familiar with when they completely close some downtown streets).   Finally in residential children could be encouraged to play on pedestrian oriented streets by including child-friendly element in the design of the streets.

There’s an element of social justice too.  Enrique Penalosa makes this point well in his TED talk on Bogota’s success:
There are some tools that could be used to alleviate traffic during peak times.  Currently buses move far more people in Merida than cars.  More use buses could be encouraged by dedicating  the right hand lane of two-lane streets for exclusive use of buses.  Having all the buses in one lane would rationalize the traffic and reward bus riders with a faster trip.  With faster trips by bus, more car drivers might be willing to switch to the bus.  Furthermore, with comfortable walking corridors downtown, more people might be willing to walk further from their parking spaces to their destinations.  Also some would choose to live in the city center and closer to work instead of fleeing to the quieter suburbs.

Merida is an amazing town. If the streets were friendly to pedestrians it would really be a world class city.

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Coasting to a Civil Street

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Since I started the Civil Streets website, I’ve been doing my best to obey traffic lights on my bicycle. Sometimes it’s tedious, but not as often as you might think. 

I bike on the same streets and I know the traffic light cycles pretty well.  I can tell what the light is doing several hundred yards before I get to it.  This allows me to time the light just right.  So rather than be standing at the light waiting for it to change I hit every light perfectly.  

This coasting strategy can easily apply to car drivers too.  Speed is a key element in accidents.  See a red light ahead?  Just chill out and go as slow as you can.  You will turn your car in to a traffic calming device. save some gas, reduce your accident risk all at the same time.  

Do you have any civil street strategies? Please email them to me.  I will highlight the good ones on the blog.


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Cars and Bikes– Can’t we all get along?

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Cars and Bikes– Can’t we all get along?

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Biking Rules!

The Biking Rules campaign in New York City just came out with a great line of stickers.  I really like them and ordered an “I rest at reds” sticker.  This is a great counterpoint to my last post.  NYC is doing great stuff!
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Biking Rules!

The Biking Rules campaign in New York City just came out with a great line of stickers.  I really like them and ordered an “I rest at reds” sticker.  This is a great counterpoint to my last post.  NYC is doing great stuff!
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New York City– Uncivil Street

This is a great video of just about everyone acting badly.  I love the box-graphics that show the conflicts.  Bicycles appear to be extra bad– but really pedestrians are jay-walking and cars are routinely nudging in to crosswalks full of pedestrians.
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