Bogota, Colombia


Bogota’s reputation was predominantly one of narco-traffic, violence, poverty and inequalities. Since 2004, Bogota is an exemplary city in terms of sustainability and social justice. The implementation of cilcorutas (cycling lanes) and sidewalks linked to an efficient Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) enabled to have a multi-modal transportation system. The car has been dethroned, to let the public transportation overrule. The benefits of such drastic measures in a developing country entail health improvement as well as social inclusion and ultimately led to a sustainable city.

Bogota, with more than 7 million inhabitants, is constantly jammed during rush hours, and people spent up to 6 hours a day just to commute. Initially, in 1997 the solution proposed by a Japanese planning agency was the construction of an elevated highway that would go across the city. Fortunately, a year later Enrique Peñaloza became the mayor and refused the project. Instead he proposed to build a multi-modal transport system, which would incorporate cycling, walking and bus transit (Charles Montgomery, 2007). Regardless of the lack of initial public and private support, Peñaloza implemented this network system, which then became a great success. Indeed, people are resistant to change as they have trouble adapting. The essential to implement such a program is to prioritize public transport over private transport. He believed that it was necessary to build a livable and functional city by ensuring safe cycling, walking and public transit for the poor who don’t own a car.

The aim is an egalitarian society to generate happiness instead of income. These facilities are accessible to all regardless of social status, gender or race. It is the only place where people mingle. Indeed, historically policies and infrastructures implemented in transportation favors and elevates the status the driver over the cyclists or pedestrian (Paul K Simpson, 2005), however Peñaloza wants to change this perception so that citizens who ride a $30 bicycle is as important than someone driving a $ 30,000 car. Ultimately happiness and wellbeing of urban dwellers is more valuable than car mobility.

Cicloruta and Ciclovia

People believe that what you ride shows your social status, as income is associated to car ownership; therefore it would be shameful for a businessman to ride a cheap bike. Today, there is a reversal of values where ridding a bike is more respectful than driving a car.  According to Peñaloza the essence of the conflict is car versus the people, a city must choose which it wants to support and facilitate. Indeed the city must help the most vulnerable and less mobile population who do less physical activity such as handicap, youngest &elders and women in poorest neighborhood. However poorest tend to cycle more than richer, due to lack of financial capital, cycling and walking is their cheapest mode of transportation (Cervero, 2005).

The 300km of bike paths was relatively cheap and very efficiently build; only $180 million were spent from 1992 to 2002 which represents half of what the US currently spend on biking infrastructure (CSJGN, 2009). The city is aiming at doubling its network by 2015. Moreover, to encourage people to go on the street, 15m wide and 17 km long pedestrian street with vegetation was built in the poorest neighborhood. In complement to cycling lanes, green spaces have almost doubled from 2.5 to 4.1 m2 per inhabitants and are aiming to reach twice that size by 2015. The infrastructure encouraged people to ride their bicycle for utilitarian purposes, in 2000 only 0.1% of the population cycled, this increased to 4.1% within six years, which is relatively high for an underdeveloped country, Scandinavian countries account for 15% of bike share (CSJGN, 2009).

The Cliclovia was instituted, to encourage people to go out on Sundays for recreational purposes. However, it is not a new concept, it was established already in the 70s but only on the major roads. Every Sunday from 7am to 2pm, 70km is car free and cyclist, skaters, pedestrian’s takeover. There are also free classes of aerobics and rumba for adults and children. To monitor and secure the Ciclovia, Bikewatcher circulate just as a lifeguard guards the beaches in Baywatch (streetfilms, 2008). This stimulates people to do physical activity instead of staying home watching television. Consequently people feel less lonely, healthier and they have a greater sense of civility.

Bus lane and Station for TransMilenio                                Ciclovia Poster


The TransMilenio is called such to avoid the negative connotation associated to buses in Bogata, which is mostly used by the poorest. The implementation of the BRT was relatively cheap; all it required essentially was to segregate a lane exclusively for the buses. Near the bus station Two lanes were established, one for the express bus and another for the local bus (streetfilms, 2008).  About $1.7 billion was invested in transport infrastructure, which carries 1 million people on a 55 km network, this represent 4 times what the metro Medellin transports and is 5 times cheaper. The ultimate goal is to reach 400 km of network in order to serve 5.5 million people (Cervero, 2005).

To complement the system, bus stations with elevated platforms were built in order to facilitate access for wheel chairs, strollers, and elders. The commuting time has considerably decreased; 30km used to be done in 2h and is now done within 55 minutes. Indeed, during rush hours more than a hundred buses go across the city to enable faster traveling and safer transit with 93% less accidents. There are six companies, which operate the system in order to track the system, where the buses are and if they cluster too much (Charles Montgomery, 2007).

The TransMilenio is integrated in a multi-modal transportation network, where platforms are connected to cycling lanes and sidewalk. Indeed 70% of the TransMilenio users, cycle or walk to the station (Cervero, 2005). Inside the station, cyclist can leave their bicycle safely as it functions like a coat-check. Moreover, local free buses were installed to facilitate access from the poorest and most remote areas of the city to the BRT system. However, the BRT doesn’t only serve the poor, 11% of the BRT users switched from driving. Today, 85% of the city dwellers live within 500 meters of a bus station (Cervero, 2005). To encourage greater use of public transportation, the city banned cars twice a week in the city during rush hours, which decrease traffic by 40%. Ultimately, the goal would be to completely ban cars from the city.

The Kyoto Protocol has incorporated the TransMilenio and sales between 100 to 300 million dollars worth of carbon credits to the rest of the world (Charles Montgomery, 2007). In addition, the air pollution decreased by 40% (Cervero, 2005).

Unfortunately, the BRT has become so popular that it is over-crowded, in 2004 riots aroused because of people unable to go on the bus. Consequently, the initial share declined by 22% as the service quality declined.

Mode of transportation in Bogota                                 Time to commute in minutes

Applicable to Montreal

A car free city is historically possible since 500 years ago cities functioned without any cars, and only relied on a network of pedestrian streets.  Montreal has the potential to integrate a more efficient transport system. Indeed a key condition is dense neighborhoods, which needs rapid access to amenities and commutes on short distances (Charles Montgomery, 2007). Montreal is one of the densest North American cities and the number of cars per inhabitants is the lowest in North America but associated to the highest for European standards. Essentially what it requires is responsible public management; by reducing bureaucracy, increasing tax revenues and restricting car use during peak hours in order to encourage the use of public transportation (Our Planet, 2001)

Until 2002 the Express Pie-IX BRT used to exist in Montreal, it stopped functioning after an accident occurred. It is expected that in 2013 it will be reestablished and more secured, extending from Laval to the south shore of the island. A denser cycling path network is possible in Montreal as there is already 400km in place and the municipality is favorable to encourage biking infrastructure. Consequently, there has been an increase of cyclist for utilitarian purposes; in 2005 this was estimated at 16% of the population (Transport Canada, 2005). A transportation plan has been established in 2008, and still needs to be put in action, with more than twenty projects planned for the following decade. Ciclovia is already implemented in many North American cities such as New York, Portland, and Chicago and even in Ottawa from May to September, Montreal could be next!


Bogota’s multi-modal transport system with initially a social target, has had more benefits than social integration, it overlapped to benefit health, the community, and the environment. Peñaloza believed that safe and enjoyable mobility is a democratic right. It is the only place where poor and rich meet, there is no hierarchy and they do the same thing: cycle, walk, exercises and enjoy themselves. Located within a developing nation, Bogota has a transport system more advanced than developed countries. This proves that it is not a question of means but of willpower to take action, it is an exemplary city that inspires the rest of the world.


“Bicycle Policy in Bogotá Ten Years After ‘the Golden Era’: The Challenge of Being an Example” (Carlos Felipe Prado, 2012) à Graphs

“The Bicycle: Vehicle to Health and Social Equality Paul K. Simpson, M.d, (Paul K Simpson)

“Bogota’s Urban Happiness Movement” (Charles Montgomery, 2007)

Cervero, R. “Progressive Transport and the Poor: Bogota’s Bold Steps Forward.” Access 27 (2005): 24–30. (Cervero, 2005)

Cervero, R., O. L Sarmiento, E. Jacoby, L. F Gomez, and A. Neiman. “Influences of Built Environments on Walking and Cycling: Lessons from Bogotá.” International Journal of Sustainable Transportation 3, no. 4 (2009): 203–226 (CSJGN, 2009)

“Instituto Distrital De Recreacion y Deporte”, n.d. ( IDRD)à images

“Montreal – Bike City – Transport Canada”,  (Transport Canada, 2005)

“Our Planet, High Achievements, Enrique Peñalosa Former Mayor”, volume 16, number1 (Our Planet, 2001)

“Streetfilms | Lessons from Bogotá”, (streetfilms, 2008)

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