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IDB releases first study on bicycle transportation in Latin America and the Caribbean

biciudades 2013 provides a snapshot of the burgeoning growth of cycling as a viable mode of transportation in the region’s cities

Six of 11 cities polled for a new study on cycling use in Latin America have either launched or plan to implement bike share programs, underscoring the growing popularity of cycling as a transportation choice in the region.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) worked with a team of students from American University in Washington, D.C., to investigate the scope of bicycle-friendly infrastructure, policy and activism in some of the region’s largest cities. They also studied a sampling of fast-growing intermediate-sized urban centers that are participating in the IDB’s Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative

Between 0.4 percent and 10 percent of the population uses the bicycle as their primary mode of transportation in the sampled cities. In intermediate-sized cities, total daily bike trips averaged between nearly 2,000 and 48,000. The daily average ranged from 84,000 to 1 million trips a day in the region’s largest cities, with Mexico City leading with the most daily trips. 

The biciudades 2013 study found that cities have limited cycling infrastructure but are nonetheless looking to promote this alternative. However, public sentiment toward cycling is mixed. While many praise its benefits, bicycles are seen by some as a symbol of low socioeconomic status, and there are concerns about safety and fear of theft, among others. 

The study identified a strong and growing push at a community level to make cities more bicycle friendly. In Bucaramanga, Colombia, the group Ciclaramanga has mobilized more than 7,500 people in group rides and in Montevideo, Uruguay, Gente en Bici and Ciclovida Urbana gathered over 10,400 signatures to petition the government for more cycling infrastructure. 

In addition, the report highlights several innovative initiatives to get around limited infrastructure. Many cities have found solutions in temporary programs called ciclorecreovías, or recreational bike paths which, although temporary, provide space for cycling on the weekends and in some cases, weeknights. The ASCOBIKE parking facility outside of São Paulo houses over 1,700 bicycles a day, a community-driven project that is managed from monthly membership fees. 

The American University team contacted officials and pro-cycling community groups in 24 cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Bogotá leads Latin American cities with 376 kilometers of total bike lanes, while Cochabamba and Montevideo lead the intermediate-sized cities. 

The 11 cities polled were Asunción, Cochabamba, Cuenca, La Paz (Baja California), Manizales, Montego Bay, Montevideo, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Lima and Mexico City. Of these, six reported they had implemented or were planning bike share programs: Mexico City, Lima, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Montevideo and Cuenca. 

In addition, the report contains data on 13 more cities. Of this larger sample, three cities either have or plan bike share programs: Santiago (Chile), São Paulo and Goiania. 

A biciudades social media campaign has been launched alongside the report to offer a platform to connect efforts throughout the region and help drive momentum forward in the development of pro-cycling environments. In addition, the IDB is taking the results of this preliminary analysis to further develop the scope of the indicators and sample to conduct a second, more in-depth study of bike friendliness next year. 

This work draws on a rising interest in cycling across Latin America as a more economical, healthy and environmentally-friendly mode of transportation.

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