There is an incredible phenomenon in Bogotá every Sunday and holiday morning called Ciclovia. From 7am until 2pm, approximately 120kms of Bogotá’s busiest streets are closed to cars and buses and opened up for bicyclists, runners, walkers, skateboarders, roller bladers, and even unicyclists (yes, I saw one once!) without being bothered by noise and traffic. Apparently these types of events have been going on in Bogotá for over 30 years and became a permanent weekly occurrence 10 years ago. Ciclovia was originally introduced to encourage Bogotanos to get outdoors and exercise, and became a way to promote the integration of different social groups over the years. Young, old, singles, families – it is hard to describe the sense of community and togetherness that I felt walking my first Ciclovia. I had actually overslept that morning, for there wasn’t an outrageous amount of noise from mufflers and horns coming from the busy street outside my hostel. That first Ciclovia, I had come across a group of people practicing the Brazilian martial art, Capoeira, in the park and another group running obstacle courses on their roller blades down a side street.
This has become routine for Bogotanos, and they appear to be much happier for it. According to some websites (thanks wikipedia), some 30% of citizens participate in this weekly event, roughly 2.5 million people. After experiencing my first Ciclovia, I was just amazed, and had to ask every person I could what they thought of it. For many, it seems to provide a real sense of pride and joy, one that was not felt before. A way to connect to their city and fellow citizens, as well as their families. Politics, poverty, traffic and crime have very negatively affected this city for quite some time but by paying attention to pedestrian malls in working-class barrios and offering free outdoor aerobics classes to everyone, the quality of life seems to have improved significantly. I know that it has contributed in a positive way to my time in Bogotá. Every Sunday, I take to the streets to explore a new area of the city, whether La Candelaria – the historic centre, or Usaquen – the bustling flea market, and I’ve even now tried an aerobics class in Parque Nacional.
I was surprised after googling Ciclovia, to see that there are actually a few of these types of events happening in Canada, although none in Toronto as of yet. I love seeing the marathoners some Sundays in the summer going down Yonge Street, why not make that a weekly event all throughout the city? I know what you’re thinking, it would cause too much traffic congestion. While I’m certain that there would be backlash from car owners, as was the case here many years ago, if a city of 9 million people can do it, surely Toronto could too. What a great way to get people active and moving!
Check out this great video about Ciclovia: http://www.streetfilms.org/ciclovia/