As previously discussed in other posts the bicycle has become a catalyst of urban transformation (1 – 2). However, many cities face enormous challenges and hidden powers that are strongly limiting the implementation of the bicycle master plans.
Recently Paris announced a master plan of €150 million to become the “bicycle capital” by 2020. This plan includes the construction of bicycle paths, reduction of speeds of cars, integration of the bicycle with other modes of transport and the increase of the Velib (Bike Share) system. The goal is to increase the bicycle mode share from 5% to 15% by 2020. Will this master plan become real? What are the challenges that cities are facing today to transform ideas into actions?
In Sao Paulo, there is also a master plan to construct 400 km bike paths project. Following this plan the city was building a ciclovia (bike path) in the famous Avenida Paulista but the national government, pressured by private interests and lobby groups, abruptly stopped the project some weeks ago. Facing this change of actions from the municipality the citizens collectives of 48 cities in Brazil and the world peaceful mobilized to recover the project. So far they haven’t been able to change the mind of the national government and the bicycle path in Avenida Paulista is still under dispute.
In my city -Medellin- we are living a similar process. The city approved a territorial plan for the next 15 years to construct 400 km of bicycle paths but hasn’t been able to finish the construction of 2,3 km that were supposed to be ready for the World Bicycle Forum in February. As in Sao Paulo, the paralyzation was the result of strong lobby groups from the car industry that are illegally using the public space where the bicycle path was going to be constructed in Carrera Palacé.
This constant private lobby lead to the creation of a citizen initiative called #PalacéParaTodos (PalaceForAll), that aims to re-dignify the public space for people. Through social media and tactical urbanism they have taken back the space for citizens for few hours. They have done several creative interventions that include yoga, games and a symbolic bicycle path. As in Sao Paulo, the project in Medellín was stopped and the time for the current administration is running out.
These two examples of lobby groups behind the power stopping projects point some reflections of the gap between the master plans and the reality. The first reflection is that even though governments have political “will” and there are master plans to be implemented the real power, for the moment, is controlled by the lobby groups that pressure different institutions to paralyze projects. On paper and press everything is possible. Taking ideas to real actions is the main challenge.
The second point is that there is a need for pedagogical campaigns to inform and reeducate citizens about the benefits of the bicycle. This will take the mobilization from a small group of collectives to a wider public. With arguments even the private lobby groups can be convinced of the economical benefits of the bicycle and become part of the change. Only through a collective action and awareness can the master plans of bicycles be implemented and sustained at the long run.