With bike-sharing program, Mexico City bike culture takes off

MEXICO CITY -- Riders have swelled 60 percent on the Mexican capital's bike lanes, thanks largely to the popular Ecobici bike-sharing program.

MEXICO CITY -- When the capital first launched its bike-sharing program, Ecobici, in 2010, promotional posters portrayed businessmen and women in suits pedaling to their next meeting or lunch date.

What seemed at the time like a far-fetched proposition in automobile-obsessed Mexico City has become a reality.

During the late afternoon lunch hour, the bike lanes along Reforma Avenue are busy with riders in slacks and dress shoes, briefcases tucked handily inside the Ecobici's metal compartment. Ridership on Reforma Avenue – where segregated bike lanes run through the heart of Mexico City’s business district – rose 60 percent in 2011 compared with the prior year, thanks largely to growth in the number of Ecobici users.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) reports that the segregated bike lanes known as the Ciclovía saw the number of riders climb, on average, to 1,817 per day in 2011, up from 1,130 in 2010 and a leap from the roughly 70 riders per day in 2008.

Cyclists on the Ciclovía pedal in the shadow of the capital's tallest skyscrapers – which house among them global banks, the Mexican stock market, four- and five-star hotels – parallel to the vehicles traffic zooming by. Ground-level barriers prevent automobiles from crossing into the cyclists' lane.

Ivan Tellez, who works at the stock market, pulled a red-and-white Ecobici off the rack on Reforma as he prepared to zip down the street to meet his sister, who works in another tower nearby, for lunch. He uses his Ecobici membership daily during workdays, he said, leaving his car as far as possible from the congestion of the business district.

The program "is really great, similar to the one in Paris," he said.

Mexico City's bike-sharing program is modeled on those in Paris and Copenhagen and was at the vanguard when it opened in 2010. U.S. cities are following suit, with programs recently begun in Boston and Washington, D.C.; New York plans to implement a bike-sharing program this year.

The Ecobici program has swelled both in terms of users and daily trips in its first two years, while the Ciclovía "is beginning to suffer the symptoms of saturation,” ITDP said in its report. The organization is advocating the city do even more "to facilitate cyclists' transit."

ITDP, headquartered in New York, maintains a base in Mexico City, where the organization consults the city government on resolving mobility issues and fostering sustainable transportation; the organization has had a hand in developing bike policy in the metropolis.

Here's more on the profile of riders in Mexico City, according to the ITDP report: Women riders are making up a larger part of the total ridership, which is still dominated by men. One in every five cyclists is female; the number of female riders increased 2 percent in 2011 compared with the prior year. The majority of riders are between the ages of 20 and 40. And most people are using the Ecobicis by and large for business not pleasure.

Daniel Martinez started using the Ecobici six months ago and pedals to work meetings near where he lives in a neighborhood off Reforma.

"We copy a lot of ideas from other countries," he said, "but not usually something so good for the welfare of society."

Photo: Flikr/Alex Marduk

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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