Better by bike – cycling in Buenos Aires

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With no hills, Buenos Aires should be a city well suited to travelling by bicycle you might think. But with its notorious traffic congestion, maniac motorists and total disregard for the highway code, it’s bad enough for car drivers let alone cyclists as anyone who has sat in a traffic jam during rush hour will testify. Add to that the pollution, particularly in the summer, with clouds of smoke bellowing from old buses, lorries and fletes (removal vans).

bici estenciles street art graffiti buenos aires buenosairesstreetart.com

“I love my bike”

However things seem to be improving for those of us who prefer two wheels. A new free cycling scheme was launched at the end of last year that has already been extended to provide more than 200 free bikes in eight different pick-up points around Buenos Aires with 45 kilometres of cycle lanes (ciclovias). The city government has promised to double the cycle network by the end of 2011he programme, part of the plan called ‘Mejor en bici’ (better by bike), has been copied from other capital cities like Paris, New York, London, Copenhagen, Montreal and Bogotá. The idea is that it will help alleviate traffic problems and make BA more sustainable.

mejor por bici buenos aires street art cabaio stencil buenosairesstreetart.comBicis by Cabaio Stencil in Colegiales

The bikes are available to use free of charge for two hours following registration on the internet or at one of the cycle stations. Five new stations in Puerto Madero, Plaza Italia, Plaza Roma, Parque Lezama and Correo Central (Central Post Office) have recently opened to add to those at Facultad de Derecho, Plaza San Martin and Plaza de La Aduana.

mejor por bici better by bike buenos aires street art buenosairesstreetart.comBike stencil in Puerto Madero

The bikes are available to use free of charge for two hours following registration on the internet or at one of the cycle stations. Five new stations in Puerto Madero, Plaza Italia, Plaza Roma, Parque Lezama and Correo Central (Central Post Office) have recently opened to add to those at Facultad de Derecho, Plaza San Martin and Plaza de La Aduana.

mejor por bici better by bike buenos aires street art buenosairesstreetart.comStencil in Palermo

The new cycle paths (especially near busy avenues like Av. Figueroa Alcorta and Av. Del Libertador) are good however the large number of pedestrians that choose to walk in the middle of these ‘bicisendas’ and refuse to get out of the way for approaching bikes makes them treacherous. Added to that the large amount of broken glass along the cycle paths like the one along Carlos Calvos street in San Cristóbal make them equally hazardous.

bici graffiti buenos aires street art mejor por bici buenosairesstreetart.comRabbit on two wheels in Parque Chas

mejor por bici stencil grafiti better by bike buenos aires street art buenosairesstreetart.comAnother bicycle painted in Monserrat

Telenoche video report in Spanish about Masa Critica

An idea called Critical Mass that first started in San Francisco in 1992 was adopted in Buenos Aires a few years ago. In Spanish it translates as Masa Crítica. The name refers to when there is a large enough number of bicycles together they take control of the road.

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Masa Critica is dedicated to promoting cycling and campaigning for the rights of cyclists on the road. It has produced a number of stencils such as “Mas bicis meno autos” with a simple message. Masa Crítica gets together on the first Sunday of every month at El Obelisco with cyclists reclaiming the streets the of BA.

What Masa Crítica is doing is great. There are still not that many of these new free yellow bikes in use but it’s early days. However it will take more than new cycle routes and free bikes to get porteños to leave their cars at home. One of the main reasons why cycling schemes have worked in cities like London is due to a congestion charge that has significantly reduced the amount of traffic in the city centre and made it safer for cyclists. Travelling around BA at weekends when there’s little traffic is definitely ‘better by bike’ but conditions need to improve so that it is safer for bicycles on working days too.

More information www.masacriticabsas.com.ar

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