As well as ciclovía, which gives millions of people weekly access to car free roads, Bogotá has a second major bike-related gem: ciclorutas. This is one of the most extensive networks of bike paths in the world, sporting around 300 km of segregated roads for bikes.

Ciclorutas provide people with a transport alternative that is safe and affordable – two attributes that are particularly important for this urban settlement of 7.6 million people with a record income inequality.

Ciclorutas were developed during the tenures of visionary mayors. The alcaldes who administered Bogotá between late 90es and early 2000s, like Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa, were sensitive to sustainable transport, the promotion of physical activity and the well-being of the population regardless of their social standing

Thanks to these visions, between 300,000 and 400,000 bicycle trips are made every day on the network, a good many of them by citizens in lower-income areas. According to a 2013 study, 85% of ciclorutas users in Bogotá have a monthly income of $487 or less, with a striking 83% not owning a motorized vehicle. Ciclorutas are a means to the empowerment of these people.

At the end of the Peñalosa mandate, as many as 40% of Bogotanos rated his administration as “excellent”.

While catering for mobility needs, ciclorutas can be seen as serving two social purposes.

Health promotion

Ciclorutas enable low-income citizens to meet the recommended levels of physical activity (for adults, 150 or more minutes of moderate activity per week) simply by using a bike for transport. A US census found that people from households with incomes below $15,000 are three times more likely to live a sedentary lifestyle than people from households with incomes above $50,000. They are also much more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes or asthma, to be obese, and to be at risk for health problems related to lack of exercise. Living in low socioeconomic status areas and communities is a clear barrier to physical activity. Among the causes is poor access to park or recreational facilities. With Bogotá being no exception to these patterns, ciclorutas have a positive impact on public health. Supportive social and physical environments are vital to motivate larger numbers of low-income people to lead more active lifestyles.

More work, however, needs to be done to increase the safety perception. 9 out of 10 ciclorutas users are male, and 30% still feel unsafe on their bikes. Safety fears are also a deterrent when it comes to physical activity.

Social integration

People with low incomes typically have longer and costlier commutes to work than those in a higher income bracket.

The design of the bicycle path network in Bogotá takes this into consideration, aiming to ease their journey across the city. The facility has been planned so as to reach the wards with the highest demand for transport – in particular those located the farthest from the city centre, in the Southern zones. The system has arteries, feeder routes and sub-feeders. Its paths connect with the city’s bus service, the TransMilenio System allowing citizens to combine cycling and public transport, thus reducing their dependence on private vehicles.

After conducting an accessibility study, however, a Dutch researcher has concluded that ciclorutas still needs to be improved and expanded to provide a higher level of accessibility throughout the whole city.

Extensive education campaigns have been conducted in order to change the perception that bikes are inferior to motor vehicles. There is still a further need to invest in education, supervision and safety but Bogotá is well on the way to making cycling a viable transport alternative. Cities in other developing countries can follow suit…