Mexico City makes way for bicycles

To cut pollution and traffic congestion, Mexico City is initiating bike-sharing programs, installing new bike parking, and legally requiring all government workers to ride their bicycles to work once a month.

Alfredo Estrella/AFP
Public bicycles are seen parked at a bike station in the neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City, on February 19, 2010. The Mexican capital is the first Latin American city to implement a public bicycle program, called "Ecobici" (Ecobike) - similar to those used in many European cities - in an effort to discourage the use of cars. The program consists of 1,114 bikes distributed among 85 stations that may be used by locals after paying an annual subscription fee of 300 pesos (23 dollars.)

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

How to help this sprawled-out city choked with more than 4 million vehicles and rampant air pollution? Ride a bike, says Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard.

New infrastructure, road closures, and bike-sharing programs are helping to promote the two-wheel answer to congestion and poor air quality. There’s the “Muevete en Bici,” which opens 8.7 miles of major avenues to only cyclists on Sundays. The city has also promised to build new bike parking and 186 miles of bike paths by 2012. There are bike racks in the Metro stations as well as bicycle-designated subway cars. Bike-sharing programs abound, the largest being the newly launched EcoBici (EcoBike) that has 1,100 bikes for use. It is the first of its kind in Latin America.

“Just as in other cities, like Barcelona, EcoBici is a project that seeks to recover public spaces, improve people’s quality of life, and, of course, help protect the environment,” said Mayor Ebrard in February at a ceremony to unveil the program.

You’ll even see city government workers cycling to work on the first Monday of each month as they are required to by law.

But the city is still bedeviled by poor air quality, and the bikes are only the latest stab at the problem.

Mexico City has been fighting its appalling air quality since 1986, when birds were known to die mid-flight and the government finally started to establish pollution-cutting initiatives. In the 20 years since, Mexico City has phased out leaded gasoline, introduced emissions standards for cars, shut the worst coal-fired power-plants, and passed legislation to pull cars off the streets and shut factories when pollution levels spike.

Bicycle riders during the week are still scarce. The proposed new bike paths have been stalled because of “budgetary restraints.” Cycling advocates, however, remain convinced of progress.

“Despite the lack of infrastructure I can assure you that in some areas of the city, biking has increased,” says Gen. Bernardo Baranda, policy director for the Institute for Transportation and Development.

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