Part 2 of 4: Paint it Red!
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

November 19, 2016

In my first post on the transportation series, I discussed how public transit in large cities had the capacity to define more than how people moved; how transport can influence neighborhoods and the individual’s ability to navigate the economic ladder, achieve a healthy life style, and how it can promote urban health or the lack thereof promotes urban crime.

These are just a few of the numerous reasons to increase sustainable public transit within a given city, but it does not address the very important question of how to start. Bikes, buses, taxis, trains, and increasing public walking spaces are many examples of services, but for the large sprawling mega cities of today, how does a city overcome the inertia of implementing one of these services? Cities are growing so quickly; those without proper city planning seem to sprawl over the landscape, spreading like a fungus on an agar plate. For most developing cities, solutions have to be retrofitted or applied onto a canvas already ingrained with buildings and basements, power lines and crowded streets. There is often little to no planning as the city sprawls outwards, so how do we begin? For the next three posts, I’ll write about a small, medium, and large solution that can do just that.

Arriving in the sprawling city of Lima, about to become one of the world’s next megacity (Listed officially with a population of 9.89 million in 2015 by the UN), I began working full time on a project to realize wave energy with a group out the United States called Atmocean in 2014 and initially found myself in Lima back in 2009 working with an NGO. Since 2009 and more recently, I have spent multiple months at a time in Lima between system deployments, permitting, and social outreach. Every time I come into Lima, I always find myself awe struck by the lack of comprehensive public transit. Like most Latin American countries, the city depends on a network of combis and buses as well as taxies with only a few centrally established bus lines. To give Lima credit, there are plans to expand a single light rail line the city already offers into a comprehensive system, but again, the inertia to undertake such an effort in terms of financing and organization puts the whole project onto an uncertain timeline.

As roughly a 1/3 of Peruvian citizens live in and around the capital, this centralized country largely depends on having a functional capital and that is dependent on transit. During my time exploring the city and encountering other like-minded people, I came across an individual named Lyndon Hail, who was working on a bicycle project. The idea was simple enough and involved importing confiscated bikes from Dutch streets, shipping them to Perú and getting them onto the streets of Lima in any way possible for bottom dollar. From selling them to renting them to hostels and hotels for guests to use, putting people on bikes was the mission.

I liked the idea and did what I could to support the project. On weekends we would go out to the storage located a few districts away in Chorrillos with volunteers, pick up bikes and make our way back to Barranco where the bikes could be distributed. Lyndon had explored the route and like any sane person on a bike in a city not built for bikes, navigated side streets overlapping with bigger streets that had enough space for cars to overtake bikes. Sitting down one afternoon, Lyndon and I started researching the prospect of painting this route. We figured it had the potential to connect Chorrillos and Barranco to Miraflores where an established route would carry it on to San Isidro and Linse. Looking into numbers from the US department of transit, we found a mere $6,000 dollars of paint could cover the 10 km with a single 1m lane. Double that for both ways and add labor and one still has a cheap viable project with the potential to connect five districts of Lima. The route itself was not standard and in some cases required half of the sidewalk.Busy con Bicis

Here is the critical point. This effort is a low hanging fruit. In an imperfect city, we found an imperfect solution, but a solution all the same. If one wanted to take a lane of car traffic along this route and change it for bikes, streamline the route, and add extensive barriers, one suddenly sees hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for a route with potentially huge disruptions to established traffic patterns. The idea to create a network of centralized imperfect bike routes, but bike routes all the same is a simple idea and a layer that can be added to an existing system or the canvas we call Lima.

Reclaiming the streets

“Reclaim the streets”

Eventually, adding connectivity like biking bridges or underpasses may be required to connect more distant areas, but by starting with painting some simple neighborhood routes, changes can begin to take place. The question should not be how to finance a bike friendly city network, but how to start connecting neighborhoods and promoting the idea of space for bikes to share the roads with vehicles. As simple as asking the bike community to submit routes, municipalities can quickly choose the most logical choices and begin by painting the roads red. It isn’t rocket science and the small inertia that needs to be overcome to start realizing neighborhood routes should make this public transit solution a no brainer.

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