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EL ESPECTADOR

Why Colombia's Booming Car Sales Is Bad News

The fact that people are buying cars is touted as a good sign for the economy, which you can think about while you're stuck in traffic or breathing in rising pollution.

In Medellin, crossing the street is bad for your health.
In Medellin, crossing the street is bad for your health.
Mario Fernando Prado

-OpEd-

BOGOTA — Colombians bought about 30,000 cars in September, the top sales figures for any month this year and 20% more than in September 2013. Forecasts predict car sales of 8% more in 2014 than in 2013, which means our streets and motorways will have about 320,000 new cars on the roads, besides the motorbikes that are also seeing an enormous spike in sales.

All of this is frightening, because there is no proportionality between the practically uncontrolled growth in Colombia's number of cars and the number of streets, avenues and highways.

The disproportion is a daily reality seen in the rush-hour taffic that chokes both big cities and little towns such as Popayán, the "white city" where traffic jams are equally crazy.

Neither the strictest car restriction schemes nor parking fines — nor indeed the dearth of meters, which encourages parking offenses — has managed to dampen the "fun" of driving a new car, one of consumer culture's many deceitful enticements.

There are quite simply not enough roads for so many cars, and nobody seems to be proposing solutions. The dealers, assembly plants and importers are of course happy. Who would spurn a 20% increase in sales? No city seems to have a master plan, and even fewer a budget to provide space for all the cars that are polluting the air and making us suffocate.

What should be done? Promote other means of getting around such as bikes and public transportion, which needs to be improved, as well as a walking culture. And for that, we need better sidewalks, more services and safeguards for pedestrians. Only when such measures are in place can anyone truly celebrate a boom in car sales.

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