8 80 Cities at the Annual Conference of the Ciclovias Recreativas de Las Americas

This month I had the pleasure of representing 8 80 Cities at the Annual Conference of the Ciclovias Recreativas de Las Americas (CRA), in its 11th version, held in Bogota, Colombia. CRA is a network of ciclovia/Open Streets organizers across the Americas. They meet annually to share lessons in Ciclovia planning with others and to learn from seeing the host city’s Ciclovia program in action. This year we had the pleasure of visiting the Mother of Ciclovia: Bogota.

If you haven’t heard about the Bogota Ciclovia and you’re in the Open Streets world… you might be living under a rock. It’s every Sunday and holiday in Bogota, about 130km, and over ONE MILLION PEOPLE participate every Sunday. It’s something spectacular to see. But there’s one thing that struck me while experiencing this event in Bogota (not just the ciclovia, but the conference as well) and that is Leadership.

Volunteers and participants preparing for a bike parade

It took leadership for Jaime Ortiz Mariño to take to the streets and advocate for a space for cyclists in the City of Bogota in 1974. It took leadership for Mayor Luis Prieto Ocampo to sign a city decree in 1976 to make Ciclovia a program of the City. It took leadership from Gil Peñalosa, Commissioner of Parks, to revitalize Ciclovia and take it city-wide scaling it to 10 times its original size in the 1990s.

And now, under leadership from new mayor Enrique Peñalosa, the Ciclovia is undergoing new changes in modernizing activity hubs, in programming group rides, adding entertainment, and attempting to increase participation & exposure to Ciclovia across the city.

Thousands of beautiful bicycles

And what has this leadership led to? Pride. And not pride for the leaders. There’s a sense of pride and ownership felt for the Ciclovia by everyone in Bogota. It’s entrenched into the city and it’s something that everyone believes is a good thing. And to believe in something so strongly is a beautiful thing.

The current administration of Bogota’s slogan for the city is “Bogota, Great for All.” And that message is built into Ciclovia. It’s in the signage, the language of the aerobics instructors, the staff, the volunteers, the public – they all believe that Ciclovia makes Bogota great for everyone.

Bogota Mejor Para Todos (Bogota Better for All)

This is something we’re missing in Canada and in the United States. We’re not all believers yet. Few take pride in the capacity of our Open Streets programs to build cities that are Great for All. Sure, we get it. Open Streets are a tool, from a toolbox of many things, to make better cities. But I don’t know if we believe it yet. And I think it’s going to take some powerful leadership to get us there.

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