Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bogotá's Ghost Bike

Nicole Cañón, a 10-year old student on her bike ride to school, was run over by a bus and, when thrown to the street, was killed by a taxi. As if this were not enough, both drivers of bus and taxi escaped, leaving the child on her deathbed with no one to take responsibility.

Ghost bike ceremonies as memorials and calls for action

By Carlos Felipe Pardo, ITDP country director, Colombia

As of last Friday, Bogotá now has its own 9-11 to remember. Though it is of much smaller scale, it is equally tragic. Nicole Cañón, a 10-year old student on her bike ride to school, was run over by a public transport bus and, when thrown to the street, was killed by a taxi. As if this were not enough, both drivers of the bus and the taxi escaped, leaving Nicole on her deathbed with no one to take responsibility.

Later that day, the taxi driver was found, but due to legal technicalities, he was let go, provided that he would not leave the city. The police did not even revoke his driver’s license.

In response, we at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) took action. As has been done since 2003 in St Louis, we bought a used bicycle that resembled what a little girl would use, painted it all in white, and held a “ghost bike” ceremony at the crossing where Nicole had lost her life. More than 100 people came with flowers to commemorate her death, and a local advocacy group (Ciclopaseos de los Miércoles) kindly redirected their Sunday bike ride to arrive at the location of the accident as well. Local media were present to record the event.



Our message at the ceremony was not only specifically related to Nicole’s death, but also in general to confront the lack of effort by the city to continue promoting sustainable, and cycle and pedestrian friendly transport.

Contrary to what had been done by Bogotá’s former mayor Enrique Peñalosa during his 1998-2000 administration, Bogotá is currently giving in to motorized traffic, and policies are slowly regressing to the previous paradigm where the car is king and pedestrians second-class citizens.

We want to stop this trend and revive the policies of the Peñalosa administration. This is what we transmitted on that day: a city must have sufficient infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians, no matter what the consequence to motorized traffic.

The big problem with implementing sustainable transport policies in many of the cities in the developing world is not that these policies are hard to implement, but that it is hard to show to traditional politicians how these policies are not only better for the city, but better for them and the entire world. Many of them remain in their cocoons, riding in their bulletproof cars and thinking that decisions in transportion should be made from the back seat blind to the realities out the window.

Neighbors of Nicole had asked for a proper pedestrian crossing for more than 10 years, and nobody had paid attention to them. We still have a long way to go, but at least we have inspiration from many places. Bogotá was one of them, and it must continue to be.



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Carlos Felipe Pardo is a psychologist interested in transport. Mainly, any strategy that reduces the dependence to car use and improves access of all population to affordable transport modes. He is director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) in Colombia


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