Urban Cyclist - - The Wonderful World of Brooks -

by Mark Sut­ton In Bo­gotá, Colom­bia, the city’s pop­u­la­tion, head­ing for seven mil­lion peo­ple, has united on one day a year for the past six­teen years, when an al­most un­rec­og­niz­able calm de­scends upon its other­wise heav­ing me­trop­o­lis. In­tro­duced via ref­er­en­dum at the turn of the mil­len­nium by for­mer mayor En­rique Peñalosa to mark Earth Day, their Día sin carro (car-free day) en­sures that the Colom­bian cap­i­tal is trans­formed for just over four­teen hours. Around 600,000 pri­vate cars are for­bid­den from the roads from 5 a.m. through to 7.30 p.m. Add to this the city’s clo­sure of its streets to cars for the tra­di­tional Sun­day ‘Ci­clovía’ (in place since the mid 1970s) and the South Amer­i­can state quickly rises on any cy­clist’s bucket list. In the past eight years, with a 76% in­crease in pri­vate ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tion to con­tend with, the city has sim­ply ground to a halt. In a tale that is all too fa­mil­iar for cities bat­tling to cope with rises in pol­lu­tion, re­s­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses see around 600,000 city-dwelling chil­dren ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tals an­nu­ally for breath­ing-re­lated is­sues. Fur­ther­more, for the re­main­ing days of the year, when pri­vate ve­hi­cle use isn’t pro­hib­ited, Bo­gotá’s cit­i­zens are said to lose an av­er­age of twenty-two days a year to sit­ting in grid­locked traf­fic. Fast for­ward to 2014 and ad­vo­cacy ef­forts from Me­jor en Bici (Bet­ter by Bike) saw the de­but of a car-free week; seven days of largely vol­un­tary com­pli­ance from cit­i­zens who have over time seen the ben­e­fits of re­mov­ing pri­vate ve­hi­cles from the ur­ban sprawl.

Bo­gotá is by mod­ern stan­dards a friend of the ac­tive and home to a great many ur­ban-mo­bil­ity-ob­sessed lead­ers, Peñalosa in­cluded. Some 402 kilo­me­tres of bike route are ex­tended by a fur­ther 63 kilo­me­tres for the Earth Day cel­e­bra­tion. Res­i­dents mark the an­nual tra­di­tion by turn­ing out on bi­cy­cles of all shapes and sizes. Bereft even of mo­tor­cy­cles, the roads are a haven for low-ca­dence chitchat un­der one’s own steam. Pause for a mo­ment and pon­der what your city im­ple­ment­ing such a level of traf­fic re­duc­tion might look, sound or even smell like. For the cap­i­tal’s res­i­dents, Earth Day and ev­ery Sun­day are to be cel­e­brated with both open arms and win­dows. The world needn’t imag­ine, of course; Car-Free Day is cel­e­brated widely on 22 Septem­ber in cities around the world. In Europe, for ex­am­ple, Mi­lan, Paris, Am­s­ter­dam and Brus­sels reg­u­larly leave the car at home for the odd day. Reyk­javík in Ice­land has had an an­nual day off driv­ing since 1996, and across much of Asia car-free days have been ob­served for sev­eral years, with China and Tai­wan hav­ing had them reg­u­larly since the turn of the 21st cen­tury. Bet­ter still, ev­ery Sun­day in Jakarta, In­done­sia, is a car-free day. In Amer­ica, Port­land and Wash­ing­ton D.C. have had car-free days, and many small cities and towns close the roads and keep trans­port hu­man-pow­ered. But in the UK, only a few towns have had days off driv­ing and al­though Cam­den has cham­pi­oned the cause, Lon­don is yet to have a ‘full’ car-free day ex­pe­ri­ence. But wher­ever in the world you are, the up­take and the en­thu­si­asm is mixed: some com­mit with gusto, oth­ers just qui­etly close se­lect streets. The aim is to give city-dwellers an idea of what their land­scape could be like if the car had never come to fruition on Karl Benz’s draw­ing board 130 years ago. Once a neigh­bour­hood has ex­pe­ri­enced the lib­er­at­ing peace, the trans­for­ma­tion of at­ti­tudes is al­most uni­ver­sally en­thu­si­as­tic; ven­ture into a city cen­tre on a car-free day and you’ll see pedes­tri­ans, cy­clists and chil­dren roam­ing as they please. It’s only when the cars are not there that you re­al­ize the as­ton­ish­ing in­flu­ence traf­fic has on our free­dom. Let’s not for­get, how­ever, that the car set out with gen­uine in­ten­tions to help fam­ily mo­bil­ity and im­prove our lot. With Ford’s launch of the Model T in 1908 – widely con­sid­ered to be the first ac­ces­si­ble car for the masses – the bi­cy­cle faced com­pe­ti­tion for pre­vi­ously tran­quil road space (al­though con­sid­er­ably less of it) from the com­bus­tion en­gine. Fa­mously, to­day’s car in­dus­try was born in the minds of cy­clists fas­ci­nated by tak­ing en­gi­neer­ing a step fur­ther. In cre­at­ing the 80-horse­power ‘999’, Henry Ford teamed up with rac­ing cy­clist Tom Cooper to build a ve­hi­cle driven to suc­cess, and ul­ti­mately into the hearts of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety fol­low­ing the for­ma­tion of the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany in 1903. Ford, like Benz be­fore him, was a reg­u­lar in the sad­dle. De­spite his role as fa­ther of the US mo­tor­ing busi­ness, Ford main­tained that the bi­cy­cle as a mode of trans­port was a wise choice as Detroit’s industrial re­struc­tur­ingto see the dom­i­na­tion­be­gan. Withi­nof free­waysfifty yearsnow so the com­mon­lyre­gion would as­so­ci­at­ed­be­gin with im­mense num­bers of pri­vate mo­tor ve­hi­cles. Detroit, the Amer­i­can city that is now strug­gling without its car man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try, and has be­come in­creas­ingly car-free, but not out of choice and al­most in spite of it­self. Might Ford have imag­ined that the ‘car-free day’ would ever be re­quired? Or that cap­i­tal cities around the globe would be go­ing to great lengths to build and leg­is­late the en­gine out of the mod­ern land­scape? In truth, and given his fond­ness for bi­cy­cle trans­porta­tion, he may well have en­vi­sioned the bi­cy­cle re­main­ing a prom­i­nent fix­ture of the roads. He would surely have been en­thralled by the TV pro­gramme Top Gear dur­ing an episode when the team pit­ted pedal power against mo­tor­ing, rail and a speed­boat in a race through Lon­don that pre­sen­ter Jeremy Clarkson said ‘ru­ined Top Gear’. In what was a night­mare sce­nario for the pro­gramme’s petrol­head hosts, the boat came sec­ond to Richard Ham­mond’s vic­to­ri­ous bi­cy­cle in the dash across the UK cap­i­tal; public trans­port came third, and the pri­vate car lagged some fif­teen min­utes be­hind in last place. An av­er­age of seven mil­lion peo­ple tuned in for episodes within that se­ries, ce­ment­ing the bi­cy­cle’s seem­ingly un­likely ef­fi­ciency in the minds of re­luc­tant mo­tor­ing fans ev­ery­where. The car may well be king, but the bi­cy­cle still proves a com­pelling heir to the throne.

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