In congested Mexico City, a leisurely approach to bicycles

Instead of painting thousands of miles of bicycle lanes, Mexico City officials shut down major thoroughfares on Sunday morning. Thousands come out to ride.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

"God help a cyclist" in Mexico City, William Booth writes in the Washington Post this morning.

God help them, indeed.

Mexico City is among the most populous cities in the world, and like Los Angeles, it's got quite an affinity for the automobile. It took "a lone madman" to ride the streets of Mexico City on a bicycle, Booth says -- both for the hair-raising congestion and the lung-gripping smog that results from it.

"Unlike some world cities -- suffering terminal gridlock, say, in India or China --  traffic usually moves in Mexico City, which actually makes it more dangerous to be on a bike, because the cars can reach ramming speeds," Booth writes. "The driving culture considers both pedestrians and bicycles fair game."

But times are changing.

In modern Mexico City, bicycle riding is an increasingly popular way to get around, thanks to city efforts to close major throughways to motorists on Sunday mornings, allowing "tens of thousands" of cyclists, rollerbladers, joggers and walkers -- among them, mayor Marcelo Ebrard -- to make their way through 14 miles of open pavement.

It's a slow, deliberate process. The city rolled out its Ecobici bike-share program in 2010, used by 26,000 people for about $25 annually. (The program is planned to roughly triple its footprint this year.) But bicycle lanes on streets are few and far between.

Still, it's an interesting approach to embracing two-wheeled transport. As American cities reclaim car lanes for the bicycle under criticism that they're not used -- a chicken-or-egg scenario, we can all agree -- Mexico City is taking a more leisure-focused approach.

It might just work.

Photo: Bec Plumbe/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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