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Second Opinion

Mexico City, cycling capital

/ 04:06 AM December 31, 2021

MEXICO CITY — Every Sunday, I would join the weekly “Muévete en Bici” (literally “Move around in your bike”) organized by the government of Mexico City, in which entire sections of major roads from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. are closed to form a protected route around the city that cyclists, runners, and skaters can take.

From my apartment in Condesa, I would join the route in Avenida Mazatlan, and follow it all the way down to Coyoacán then back to Condesa via Avenida Patriotismo. If I’m feeling energetic and the weather is good (as it usually is this time of the year), I would continue to Paseo de Reforma all the way to the Basilica de Guadalupe. Otherwise, I would happily just stop by my favorite bakery in Roma Norte, Panadería Rosetta, for a guava roll (or two), having already completed a good 20 kilometers at that point.

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Throughout the “Muévete en Bici,” cyclists still have to stop at traffic lights every 500 meters or so, but it can still be a great workout akin to high-intensity interval training; what makes it fun is that other participants with your pace and you end up racing or trying to catch up with each other. Of course, you can just take it easy, too; I see families turning out with bikes of all sizes.

Aside from volunteers staffing every segment, there are bike repair stations and even medical stations along the way to make participants — even cycling novices — feel safe. And for children and adults alike who do not know how to bike, there are biciescuelas (bike schools) along the route.

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For those without bikes of their own, the city rents bikes for free so people can join the bike ride on Sundays. All you have to do is leave your ID and fill out a short form.

One can also make use of ECOBICI, Mexico City’s highly acclaimed public bike-sharing system, which offers 6,000 bikes scattered in over 450 bike stations around the city, which residents and tourists alike can avail for only 496 MXN (around 1200 pesos) a year.

All of the above facilities and services have clearly succeeded in the goal of encouraging people to “move around in their bikes,” and the past few months have seen record attendances — more than 100,000 on a Sunday. That number is reflective of just how popular cycling has become in the city and the country.

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It wasn’t like this until the past few years. In fact, some of my Mexican friends still have the perception that cycling in their city is dangerous. One decisive step was the city government’s decision in 2007 to implement a Plan Verde (“Green Plan”) which called for “transforming mobility” as one of its cornerstone strategies. That same year, the city launched the “Muévete en Bici,” and in 2010, ECOBICI followed, accompanied by the installation of protected bike lanes all over the city.

The pandemic ushered in an even greater interest in cycling—a 275 percent increase—and the government was supportive of this development, most notably installing a 28-kilometer, two-way cycle lane in the city’s most important road, Avenida Insurgentes, with the ambitious goal of having 600 kilometers of bike lanes within the city by 2024.

Credit goes to the government officials who enabled this bike culture (for instance, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard and environment minister Martha Delgado who initiated Plan Verde), showing that enlightened politicians can make a big difference. However, just as instrumental were grassroots bike advocates and activists who pushed the government toward this direction—for instance, by launching mass bike rides demanding a bike-friendly city since the late 1990s, or by painting bike lanes into existence back in 2011 to call on officials to fulfill their promises of cycling infrastructure.

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Also working to Mexico City’s advantage is that, to begin with, it has had a wealth of preexisting public spaces and parks, like the massive Bosque de Chapultepec, where people can bike. Within the city’s vicinity, there are also natural parks such as Desierto de los Leones, Ajusco, and Los Dinamos where one can do uphill rides or mountain biking trails.

Thanks to this confluence of factors, an entire economy around cycling has sprung up, from trendy bike cafés and numerous bike shops to bike tours and bike parking everywhere. Which is why for many chilangos, there is no going back to a car-centric mode of transport.

Whether for transportation, livelihood, or recreation, an urban cycling culture — supported by infrastructure — can do wonders for a city. I wish I can see the same kind of commitment for cycling back home.

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TAGS: Gideon Lasco, Mexico City biking, Second Opinion
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