One thing that has surprised us the most in our travels has been that no matter where you go, no matter how “developed” or “un-developed” a country may be, everywhere you look is the same sight: cars, trucks, busses… Traffic has become normal in the world today. Walking down the street without smog choking your lungs (especially here in Central America) is a rare event. Back home, we dealt with it all with our bikes. Cycling was easily the fastest way to get around New York and Brussels.
Obviously we’re not alone there – even in the infinite sprawl of the southern US we saw cyclists fighting their way through traffic. Such was our delight then when we came to Mexico to discover Guadalajara, a city of 4 million people, overrun with cars, with some of the worst traffic we have ever seen, and yet full of good folks working hard to make bikes a way of life.
There is GDL en Bici for instance, which has been around for four years now and which is all over the city, organizing a monthly ride for families that attracts up to 4,000 riders, offering cheap bike repair workshops for anyone interested and a series of weekly public talks (Las Charlas Cyclistas) about cycling-related issues and even maintaining a house to serve as a welcome point for passing touring cyclists.
At Ciudad Para Todos, the focus is broader, working for any kind of non-motorized transport. These guys have been re-animating dis-used urban zones, painting bike lanes wherever they’re needed, and slapping “wikimultas” – sort of like citizens’ traffic tickets – on cars which park in ways that make cycling dangerous.
Bikla, which unfortunately we weren’t able to include in our video, is a private company working to make a network of rental bikes throughout the city. You simply log in to the website, then show up to any one of the 30 stations locate throughout the city and you’re ready to ride. Over 3,000 people have signed up now, and the network is growing every day.
And of course it’s no surprise that the city has its own branch of the Ghost Bikes movement. We had never heard of these folks before, though we had seen their work back in NY, where a white bike with a basket and plastic flowers was parked permanently just down the street from our old apartment. All these bikes mark places where cyclists have been killed in car accidents. Over the past 2 years, the folks at Bici Blanca Guadalajara have installed over 60 bikes as both a place for families to meet and mourn and as a reminder for the population at large: there is no government office that even bothers to count how many cyclists die on the road each year.
We had an intense week in Guadalajara. The folks at GDL en Bici even talked us into giving one of their Charlas. When we left on the night bus to Mexico City, we were were exhausted, but even as we slept our way across the country we were smiling – thanks to all those amazing people, Guadalajara is a city on the move.