The Wheel of Respect

Bogota , the capital of Colombia, is the place to go if you love cycling. The city is visited by hundreds of people each year who come to experience...

Bogota , the capital of Colombia, is the place to go if you love cycling. The city is visited by hundreds of people each year who come to experience the infrastructure of 376 kilometers of CicloRutas and acitivities like the Car Free Day, the Sunday Ciclovía and the Night in Bikes which is done in December every year. In fact, Bogota has been considered an example to the world of sustainable mobility. In 1999 former Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa, an advocate of the city’s cycling infrastructure, said

“A citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important to one in a $30,000 car”.

But what happens when mobility problems start to arise and cyclists start to die at a rate of one per week?

The answer came from the cyclists themselves.

The campaign Rueda del Respeto, (Wheel of Respect literally translated),   is the result of a collective reaction regarding these problems. Gradually, the campaign started to take a deeper insight to the concept of mobility and what was originally planned. The organizers consider that mobility problems are the consequence of two processes that have been overlapping in time. The first is the increasing use of urban land mainly for transportation needs: a lot of   space is required and obtained from other activities; for example more motor displacements demand more spaces to move, which gives priority to cars and buses instead of individuals on bikes.

The second process is the current specialisation of the land use. More and more spaces are used for only one type of service or activity: development of offices, housing complexes, colleges, shopping centers . It becomes urgent for all of this new infrastructure to link all these places to each other. However, the vision of these new developments does not consider the different modes of transport that citizens use. While all urban and transport policies have been geared to encourage and promote massive transportation, the rest (pedestrians and cyclists)   will try  to survive in the chaotic environment created for vehicles.

The main objective, thus, is to empower citizens and find out what cyclist can do in these three areas: infrastructure (to keep cycle paths and cycle routes maintenance), security (protection against bicycle theft) and respect (promotion of civic culture and eradication of gender violence as some female cyclists have complained of being victims of sexual harassment). The city has hundreds of urban cyclists, and more are added each day. Their concern is that the increasing number of cyclists does not necessarily make them more visible to drivers and others in the city. The cyclists soon started to select meeting points using the social media to convey messages. The plan has been to light candles and torches, as a symbol of life and respect . They want to recover their visibility and presence in the city.

Colombian cyclists are serious about the need to become more and more conscious of their role as mobility actors in order to re-embrace their rights. There are two models of city in tension in Bogota: the productive city vs the sustainable city. There are differences of class and status that are visible through the use of the bike but discussing their problems and their present vulnerability can pave the way for all citizens to build up solidarity recognising the importance of the bike as a mean of transport and the need for security and respect.

Three groups or Colectivos are taking part: namely Fontirueda, Sucicla and Velo Norte . They are formed by enthusiastic cyclists who organize a number of activities like rides and competitions, in benefit of their own groups. Now ,they are all getting together to take part in Rueda el Respeto, circulating in big numbers around the main areas of the city with torches, slogans and messages, creating awareness on the situation and promoting the need to respect pedestrians and cyclists. No more deaths – no more violence.

These people are mobilising for the recognition of the bike as a tool to make visible their right to a secure and friendly environment.

For more information visit their Facebook Page

Rossana Karunaratna

Rossana has 25 years of experience working with civil society, government agencies, higher education institutions and international organisations in Peru, her country of birth and in Sri Lanka as tutor and consultant. Her areas of expertise include peace building and conflict transformation, human rights, gender (women’s rights and domestic violence), state-civil society relationships and inter-marriage and citizenship. She lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
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