Still a long way to go in Buenos Aires

In my last post I tried to reflect my views as a bike commuter here in Buenos Aires. I made just a brief comment on public transport but in this post I’d like to picture the scene in a broader way.

Biking is relatively comfortable and safe in Moreno, my hometown. The situation changes if you want to cycle beyond Moreno: on working days and especially at rush hours, travelling on the train with your bikes is almost a torture as companies seem unable to realise the one and only carriage they provide for bike commuters is not enough. Yes, they only provide one carriage for bike commuters. I don’t use the train to go to work because I work in the suburbs of my hometown but lots of people do use the train to commute and it’s chaotic. Below I’ll show you a shot of a carriage for bike commuters.

The picture shown is a carriage meant for bikes in my train line. Believe it or not, this carriage is packed with bike commuters during working days. I’d like this railway company to do something for us. We need it..

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September 22 is World Carfree Day!

World Carfree Day Wiki

World Carfree Day Wiki

As you know, every September 22, people from around the world get together in the streets and neighbourhoods to celebrate World Carfree Day and to remind the world that we don’t have to accept our car-dominated societies.

World Carfree Day, promoted and supported by the World Carfree Network, is intended to advance the economic, social and environmental benefits of self-propelled or mass transportation. It is meant to promote more sustainable ways of transportation and new ways of building and thinking the urbanism of our cities, allowing streets to be a living space, rather than only a transit space.

With the global economy in freefall, carmakers are facing turbulent times and people around the world are re-evaluating their relationship with the car. So now is the perfect timing to try out the alternatives, spread the carfree word, join or start a World Carfree Day in your area! It is also time to push for a new use of car factories that could be used to build public transportation, providing employment and allowing us to build a better urban environment.

Before the 10th anniversary of World Carfree Day next year, let the 2009 edition be a showcase for how our cities might look like, feel like, and sound like without cars 365 days a year!

World Carfree Network invites organisations and individuals everywhere to share information. You can add your event online at: http://editthis.info/wcd/Main_Page

And join the World Carfree Day Page on Facebook

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Naked by bike in brussels – Cyclonudista 2009

Every year a “World Naked Bike Ride” or Cyclonudista is held in different cities all over the world to show the fragility of cyclists in traffic and ask more (political) attention for cycling as a sustainable way of transport in cities.

In Brussels it was a sunny day, which resulted in many naked cyclists, taking most people in town by surprise, creating mixed reactions and lots of photo and video attention. See our video:

Dutch/French with English subtitles.
Filmed in Brussels on Saturday 27 June 2009.
Camera and editing by Bas Ruyters.


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The World Naked Bike Ride

Lima-2007

Lima- Peru 2008 by Marco Carrion

“How did you get the idea?” I think is one of the most common questions that people or reporters ask the riders during the event. The most common answer for cities that start the ride some years later is something like, “We read about it, we think that this is great and must to be done here”.

The World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is an international clothing-optional event that protests against oil dependency and celebrates the power and individuality of our bodies. The first ride was celebrated in Zaragoza, Spain and year-by-year more cities around the world are added to the list of places with a ride. Today, there are about 75 rides around the world, taking place annually. The fact that many people around the world are demanding the same things – in the same way and on the same day (second Saturday of March to the southern hemisphere and the second Saturday of June to the northern hemisphere) – gives a special power to the protest.

London 2008 by Melvin Heng

London 2008 by Melvin Heng

The objectives of the WNBR are very similar in most cities. Here in Lima, Peru we protest against the inadequate and excessive use of motorized vehicles and demand respect for cyclists from drivers; to the state to promote bicycle as a means of transportation and for a bike-friendly city; and to inform the population about traffic culture and importance of personal action to reduce environmental pollution by encouraging bicycle use.

Nudity is a very interesting and effective form of protest – presenting our body as a chassis which shares the streets with vehicles – ensuring that we will be seen as an opposite to cars, which doesn’t normally happen when we are on the road. Nudity also draws attention to the population and the media, and shows our message to the rest of the world. In Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2008 police arrested participants of the WNBR and started violent actions against the riders, and put a stop to the ride. The media showed these events, and for a while, the society was in dispute about why nudity is wrong and how the position of the cyclist in the city obligates them to protest.

This protest is clothing-optional – a “Bare As You Dare” dress code – which means that aside from nudity, many people also wear costumes, body paint, as well as bring banners to express their feelings. The important point is to make the event as a creative and unusual as possible in order to call attention to the population.

Sao Paulo 09 - Luna Rosa

Sao Paulo 2009 by Luna Rosa

Some of you must be asking now, what about the police? Well, that is a different issue in each city. Mexico City had no problem with police who supports the ride because the nudity was their way to protest. In London in 2008, the police stopped the ride at one point, but after some discussions they allowed the ride to finish. In Lima, the first WNBR was something very improvised (with 15 riders, and just 2 naked), and the district security and the police stopped it. However, after some questions at the police station including “is it true that you were totally naked”, which I answered, “no it isn’t, I had helmet, socks and shoes”, we were released. In years since, Lima has had many more riders and the police now support us. So what’s the secret? It’s the same as many cities: big number of riders and media attention. In Sao Paulo in 2009, the secret was to get naked just after fooling the police by dispersing and later joining at a pre-established point.

If you want to participate or organise a WNBR in your city there is lots of information on the Internet: almost all the rides are listed on the WNBR page (in Spanish at Ciclonudista.net), and this site includes documentary “Indecent Exposure to Cars” by Conrad Schmidt and documentary of the WNRB in London by High Altitude Films.

So pay attention to the WNBR’s happening this year in many cities and countries across North America and Europe, as well as the southern hemisphere rides which take place in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand and Peru.

Octavio Zegarra Lazarte

Lima, Peru

Lima 2007

Lima 2008 by Marco Carrion

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Carfree Days: A Glimpse of the Future

Dhaka

Dhaka by Debra Efroymson

While sitting in a van with colleagues from the more lucrative part of my job (the part that doesn’t involve urban planning or transport), stuck in typical Dhaka traffic one day, a man who to my knowledge has never worked on urban issues explained to a visiting American how wonderful the city is when there are hartals, or political strikes. “It’s great,” he gushed, “there are almost no cars. It takes far less time to get around by (cycle) rickshaw than it does on other days by car. Other than the tear gas and violence, it’s perfect.”

He could have added that the streets are quieter, and if the hartal lasts two or three days, the air becomes surprisingly clean and fresh, despite a population of about 12 million people. He could have added how sociable the city becomes, with groups of children cycling down the middle of the streets, and groups of adults walking together to work or to a shop.

In some ways hartals are not a fair example of what the city could be like carfree. After all, many offices and shops stay closed, so there are far fewer people moving about. And of course the violence, and the suffering of those who live day-to-day and who cannot earn money during hartals adds a grim aspect. On the other hand, how many other opportunities does one have to experience one’s city car-lite or carfree? And if rickshaws can be faster than cars, why are they attacked as slow-moving transport while cars are not just allowed but encouraged?

When moving about Dhaka, I can’t help but notice how small the city seems when traveling by rickshaw or bicycle as opposed to car. Sitting in a car stuck in traffic, the city seems huge and unfriendly, destinations widely spaced, and no form of transport viable except the car. But when there is a hartal, or early in the morning when traffic is light, the city magically shrinks in size; faraway destinations become readily accessible without the use of an engine. This is only partly because the trip can be faster when non-motorized. Realisation slowly dawns on me: if traveling were pleasurable it wouldn’t matter if it did sometimes require more time, as one could then mix leisure and recreation with transport, rather than travel being solely for the sake of arriving somewhere else.

But if I mentioned to the colleague who waxed rhapsodic about hartals that one could achieve a similar, but more peaceful, effect by getting rid of the cars, he would react with disbelief. On a hartal, sure, rickshaws are great, but for day-to-day life cars are essential, despite only a tiny minority of the population having access to them. Cars are inevitable, as much so or more than political unrest; one can’t ban them, any more than governments have succeeded in banning hartals.

Children playing soccer in the streets of Dhaka

In the streets of Dhaka by Debra Efroymson

I have often tried to argue that what is unimaginable is not a city without cars, but the existing cities that we live in, cities where the most dangerous daily activity for most residents is crossing the streets, where it is commonly accepted that dogs, children and others will be killed on a regular basis in the streets, where movement and parking of cars is considered a priority over the active play and independent movement of children and the socialising and mobility of the elderly.

How odd!

I was recently in New York City, where having walked about 40 blocks, my feet needed a rest just as I reached Times Square. I found an empty lounge chair and took a seat. Tourists were asking each other what was going on: “I just asked, they said nothing, they’re just sitting here.” No, not a staged event, just a piece of the street given over to a public use other than being stuck in traffic.

NYC June09 (32)

Time Square by Debra Efroymson

It was a gorgeous sunny day, and I sat for a long time, enjoying the lively yet quiet scene. It was a bit like a hartal in Dhaka, where the few cars are relegated to the margins and people reclaim the centre stage.

That big sign with the word “hope” on it might have said it all, but I would have chosen a different verb. We aren’t going to get there only by hoping…though those glimpses into the future may well give us the hope and courage to do what is necessary to make these extraordinary occasions into the blissfully mundane.

–Debra Efroymson

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