The invention of the pacemaker, 100 Years of Solitude, Botero’s chubbies…Colombians have a lot to brag about but did you know that the idea of the Sunday ciclovía originated in Bogotá? In the 1970s, activists convinced the mayor that the city’s pedestrians, skaters and cyclists needed a respite from traffic and a place to do their thing. In the forty years that followed, ciclovía grew from just a few streets to over 120 kilometers of roads closed to vehicular traffic on 72 mornings a year (every Sunday, all national holidays and a couple of special nighttime events too!). The success of Bogotá’s Sunday ciclovía has inspired other cities all over the world to implement similar programs to get people off their butts and reduce the noise and pollution of traffic (albeit temporarily).
Ciclovía is probably our favorite thing about living in this city, but the program has had more benefits than simply offering a good place to take a stroll. I read a blurb from The American Journal of Public Health* that over time, Bogotá’s ciclovía has fostered a sense of community and safety, and not just because people don’t have to fight with traffic to ride. People surveyed said that they felt safer in terms of crime and danger during ciclovía. I thought this was a pretty big deal and a compelling example of how programs like this truly impact people’s lives. In some ways, Bogotá is a divided city—because of the strata system used to group people of similar socioeconomic range together, because certain parts have a reputation for being unsafe, and for the simple reason that traffic makes mobility in this city really difficult. However, ciclovía breaks down these barriers and allows an estimated 600,000-1.4 million participants each week to fluidly and safely roam different parts of the city. I can speak from personal experience that we’ve ridden to places we would probably not otherwise explore simply because we were out and about with everyone on a Sunday morning.
Our favorite route is to head toward La Candelaria along Carrera Septima. In my opinion, there is no better way to see Plaza Bolívar, the presidential residence and the historic center–you’ll still be elbow to elbow with other bikers, but it’s peaceful and pollution free! As you go, you’ll see water stations (for people and pooches), a platform with instructors leading free aerobics classes, and every kind of vendor you can imagine. In fact, we usually skip breakfast and head straight out the door to grab one of Bogotá’s many carb-y items steaming up glass cases along the way.
Just past Calle 30 or so on the left is a flea market, which for us is always a good place to stop and stretch our legs. Just FYI, there are several bike racks inside where you can park your wheels and a decent bathroom (500 pesos). Of course the first stop is always coffee, which you can sip while you mosey around. You can find anything here–from crystal champagne glasses to creepy doll heads (seriously) and the city’s cheapest bootleg RayBans.
Keep riding past the flea market and you’ll eventually come to Plaza Bolívar (just past that is the presidential residence). One thing that I think is pretty special to Bogotá are these guys who take old fashioned black and white photographs, who can be found in or around the square.
If you’re passing through Bogotá, try to be here on a Sunday (or holiday!) to take advantage of the city sans traffic. If not, don’t worry! Companies like Bogota Bike Tours have cool options to explore the city on two wheels every day of the week.
*Torres, A, O. Sarmiento, C. Stauber, and R. Zarama. “The Ciclovia and Cicloruta Programs: Promising Interventions to Promote Physical Activity and Social Capital in Bogotá, Colombia.” American Journal of Public Health. 103.2 (2013): 23-30. Print.