Mobility in Mexico City: the bicycle as an alternative
Ignacio Gómez Urquiza is responsible for mobility issues at the Miguel Hidalgo delegation. We talked with him about one of the topics that we are most passionate about at 180º: alternative mobility and bicycles.
180º: Where is the city in terms of mobility?
Ignacio Gómez: Let's start by talking about the cities. Cities are organic entities, they are transforming all the time, even if they are made of concrete and steel. If you analyze any urban space, any human settlement, it is constantly changing. Under this logic, the city is an organic entity that evolves and adapts to the times. We are human beings who adapt that space to our needs. An important change that is taking place right now is mobility. Even the word is used differently in recent years. Before it was called “Transit and Roads” and priority was given to vehicles and by vehicles only cars, public transportation and cargo vehicles were understood. What happened is that this transportation system reached its limits, the streets became saturated and we realized that something had to change. Alternative mobility proposals began to be made. The very word “mobility” redefined the entire solution scheme of how to get from point A to point B in a city. It's no longer just getting into a car or public transportation. Ironically, we always refer to the car as transportation because it is what they mention everywhere, but only around 30% of people move by car. The vast majority of people in this city walk, move by public transportation and a small percentage use alternative means of mobility, that is, non-motorized vehicles. Under the new scheme, the person has to be the axis of all mobility actions; The vehicle is no longer considered but the person. That's why it was necessary to rethink it. A new law was published, which is no longer about transportation and roads, but rather a Mobility Law. This is a movement that is emerging around the world, answering the question: How can we improve moving in a given space? In this case in an urban space.
The city is in a moment of transition, because it is always in a moment of transition. Right now it is a very special one because it is a transition in how we define moving around the city. This will always change, there will always be new technologies, new proposals and also new needs. We must propose a new scheme thinking about the benefit of the majority, in the general interest. The first point to attack is public transportation, because it is how most people in this city move. Public transportation is expensive and there are many interests involved. It is a question of economic and even political power. 12 million people move in concessioned transport, only 4 million in the metro. So to improve mobility you have to touch that, move the current mobility schemes so that you can transport more people, transport more safely and so that it is easier to move from one place to another.
The city is in a moment of transition towards better public transport, there is no room for cars, it is very difficult to provide reasoned solutions and in the rest of the world people are no longer betting on cars in such small spaces and with such density. What we are betting on is that people can walk more, because we also have a massive health problem that has to do with lifestyle. So the idea is that people walk, that they get from one point to another in a less cumbersome way, but there is another problem: Mexico City has a terrible distribution and you have to move people from inside to outside and from outside to inside everything. time. What the city government has done is look for alternatives and so have the citizens. Many have identified these alternatives in transportation such as the bicycle, which within the new law, and the new mentality, is considered a vehicle.
180º: What is the citizen's part in these changes? How to influence this culture of alternative mobilities?
I: A delegation has many limitations when it comes to acting. If we want to improve the conditions of vehicle transport, cars, there are many conflicts of interest that would mean that, by the time we provide a solution, we have already lost too much time, the same with public transport, so we look for alternatives where it can have an impact. Where do you have an impact? In pedestrians and in alternative means of transportation. That is why some delegations (such as Benito Juárez and Cuauhtémoc) have opted to support bicycle mobility. The ITDP (Institute for Transportation and Development Policies) published an article in which it says that 2% of the trips made are by bicycle, and it is a percentage that will grow, because people are looking for alternatives.
Citizen participation is key. In my short experience, I realize that citizens have a very important weight in these mobility solutions. We have to assume a more mature pose as citizens. It is very important to understand that if we citizens organize ourselves we can set the tone for the changes we seek, to push changes for our benefit. But for that you need organizational skills. Now citizen organizations have more weight than before, the government is calling on these organizations to provide solutions that the government has not been able to provide. An example is Movilidad Bicitekas, an organization that today has a very important dialogue with the authority regarding bicycle mobility. It is very important how citizen participation has helped put these issues front and center on the government agenda. Without these citizen organizations, the cycling infrastructure that we have today would probably not exist, without a doubt.
Behind the city's road projects there is a lot of budget and many interests. 70% of the budget in this city is focused on solving the mobility problems of the 30%, who are those who move by car, because there are interests involved. But citizens also have a say in this. The great comfort area of politicians is the apathy of citizens, it is like giving them a blank check because we citizens were not interested in participating. This may seem far from mobility but it is also important to have the context. The issue here is one of power and non-governmental organizations are counterweights to power, there is an important point to influence mobility. Many cycling organizations have a new citizen vision, a new version of how to be citizens and Mexicans. Because riding a bike has a whole theme of freedom behind it and finding a new channel in the expressions of moving under a new scheme.
180º: Beyond plans and projects, how is all this perceived when being on the street on a bicycle?
I: I did a master's degree in London and I got around by bike because the city allowed me to. And I realized that I liked it so much that I wanted to do it in Mexico too. When I returned I dedicated myself to riding a bike and I have been doing it for eight years now. You have to know your rights and obligations as a user of public space, in eight years I have had at least three accidents (this is an important factor for people not to move by bike, they are very afraid of it). And of course you are afraid, the bodywork is oneself, but the percentage of accidents on a bike is very low, it is more likely that you will have an accident in a car. Even so, perception has a very important weight.
The bike has allowed me to have a much freer and more enjoyable life. Obviously it is a solution in terms of small distances. When I go somewhere far away I use public transportation, but I believe in the bike. Another thing I love is the attitude, the drivers are almost always grumpy and when you ride a bike you feel good. The attitude that the bike gives you is very important, you have an improvement in your daily life.
180º: What are your rights and responsibilities as a cyclist?
I: Consulting the traffic regulations is important.
- Privilege the pedestrian. Not all cyclists respect that and it is not right and we have to accept it.
- On secondary streets, share the street with others.
- Always be aware that cars see you.
- There are confined spaces for the cyclist, they must be used in the appropriate direction.
All these rights and obligations point towards having a better coexistence in public spaces. The law is there and it must be consulted. The issue is to inform yourself. We have a great role as citizens and as people, if we inform ourselves.
( The opinions expressed here belong to those interviewed. They do not represent the point of view of 180 DEGREES.)