April 2015

Pedestrian and Biking Day in Cochabamba

Imagine standing in the middle of Heroinas Avenue. No traffic, no honking, just silence. This can be experienced three times a year in Cochabamba. A woman is heavily stomping on her orange bike’s pedals. Two kids are racing each other, just managing not to bump into the group of people walking in front of them. This Sunday, the streets of Cochabamba are dedicated to the walking and the cyclists. The endless honking from the chaotic traffic has been paused in favor of Mother Nature. This is Pedestrian and Biking Day.

By: Cecilie Dam
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Fredensborg – Denmark

Time stops at Cochabamba three times a year for the Pedestrian and Biking Day
Photo: Verena Klotz

Reducing CO2 emissions

The idea with giving a day for walking and biking started here in Cochabamba over a decade ago. The main idea is to lower CO2 emissions, as Cochabamba is actually one of the ten most polluting cities in South America; however, it is also a day full of activities and fun events. Small trampolines for the kids, kickboxing lessons in the fierce heat, and a dancing Argentine band are just some of the things you will see walking down the El Prado.

Origin and development

Pedestrian and Biking Day is held three times a year, and one time a year at the national level. The idea is that from 8.30 AM to 6 PM no cars are allowed on the streets, with the only exception being ambulances and such. It started in Cochabamba as an initiative to reduce CO2 and to encourage people to cycle more. In 2011, President Evo Morales became aware of the good initiative and made it national. So, every first Sunday in September, all traffic is stopped in La Paz, Sucre, Santa Cruz, and of course, Cochabamba. Here in Cochabamba, people would not settle with once a year, and in 2013 they expanded the concept to three times a year.

Plazas waiting for children to enjoy The Pedestrian Day
Photo: Ximena Noya

Increasing number of Cyclists

Cyclists are a rare sight in Bolivian streets, but why is that? The organization Mass Critics organizes bicycle events all over the world and wants to claim cyclists’ rights back. Christian Nogales is the responsible of Mass Critics in Cochabamba. He gives his take on the situation.

“Being an urban cyclist in Cochabamba is extremely challenging at times. However, I can comment that since Mass Critics came to Cochabamba, the number of people riding bicycles has increased day by day. We are more in the streets, kind of a silent revolution,” he says.

Little by little the number of cyclists is increasing in Cochabamba
Photo: Ximena Noya

He thinks back during a time when the bicycle was very popular in Cochabamba. Just two generations ago, most rode a bicycle. It was a very popular form of transportation among the working class. Christian Nogales believes that influence from the Western world and that cars symbolize social status are primarily responsible for the minimal usage of bikes.

“The increase of cars is getting worse, which influences the safety of cyclists. Distances to work are becoming a little longer and having a car provides false comfort. I do not mean that I am particularly against the use of cars, but rather for the smart use of transportation,” he points out.

Safety first

Regarding the Pedestrian and Biking Day, he likes that it makes biking a fun activity. He believes it encourages people more to use them in their everyday life, and that cyclists have a day were they can feel safe. Although he sees the good in the yearly events, he feels that for the average user to be able to contribute in lowering the CO2 emissions, bigger changes are needed.

Christian Nogales states that three things have to be taught before biking can once again can become the preferred form of transportation. Education, security and riding conditions are the key words in this matter. He believes that schools should teach students the cyclists’ rights and rules, as well as the positive benefits of biking for the person and the environment. There is a need for bike paths, signs, and basic regulations to make it easier and safer to be an urban cyclist. With education and infrastructure changes, Mr. Nogales believes people will have a choice whether to bike or not.

Accidents. With all the traffic in Cochabamba, where a red light means last chance, instead of stopping, you need to watch out. It is free! Once you have paid your bike, you can use it as much as you want.
Lack of bike lanes. Bikes are not an integrated part of the infrastructure. You will get some exercise. Instead of being squeezed into an overloaded Trufi, you will get wind in your hair and be able to eat an extra piece of chocolate with no guilt.
Theft. Just as your bag can get stolen, if you are not careful, your bike can be as well. So, lock it and put it in a save place. It is good for the environment. 1For every kilometer, the average car produces 170 g. of CO2.


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