BUENOS AIRES — Cycling is catching on in this bustling city of taxis, buses and cars, especially since the bike-lending program EcoBici was launched in 2010. In fact, it's currently one of the few systems in the world in which the stations are operated by trained personnel and the service is free.
But the differences between cycling habits in Buenos Aires and, say, the world's most bike-friendly cities of Copenhagen and Amsterdam remain considerable. Here, just 3% of daily trips are made by bike, compared to 50% in Copenhagen and 62% in Amsterdam.
Clarin asked two cycling enthusiasts from those cities to offer their observations about the state of cycling in the Argentine capital: Ruwan Aluvihare, Amsterdam's Physical Planning Department chief; and Denmark's Henrik Lundorff Kristensen, who is studying how cycling could become a significant means of transport here.
They shared their views as they participated in the bicycle event I Bike ABC, a cultural and scientific exchange between Amsterdam, Buenos Aires and Copenhagen. They believe there has been significant progress in Buenos Aires but say more measures are needed to maximize the system's potential.
Kristensen came to Buenos Aires in February 2013 and is accustomed to cycling as a way of life. "I always cycled and never thought of it as an odd thing," he says. "In Denmark, we learn to ride bikes as children, and it's how we move around. I felt I was missing something here," he says. He established a link with the city through the Viking Bike Academy.
He says cyclists here are making changes and spreading their experience. "Another good thing is that, from nothing, the city started a very safe system, which is very good news," he says. "But it's a system that will have problems in the long term, as paths either follow or go against the traffic, which creates interference, and are difficult to expand."
Cycling paths must be "advanced" to the heart of the city's traffic arteries, Kristensen says. "Cycling is removed right now, away from the main avenues. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, you see bikes going at different speeds, overtaking each other, which they can't do here. Sometimes the paths have complicated turns or are not laid out straight. If I want to go from Caballito to the city center, give me a straight line."
Parking is another issue. He's perplexed that people take their bikes into their apartments and that cyclists are encouraged to wear particular garments or afix rearview mirrors. "It's viewed as a sport or a small car, and it's not like that," he says. "The bike is just a bike."
Aluvihare suggests measures ranging from showers in workplaces to tax benefits for those using bikes because they aren't polluting the air or contributing to traffic congestion.
"We didn't pay much attention to the issue until about five or six years ago, and realized that things could go wrong because our policies were falling behind our cyclists," Aluvihare says. "And you couldn't add cycling space to roads we had in any case, so we thought of new ideas like streets for cyclists, which is not unlike the pedestrian zone in the Microcentro. These are streets with a low speed limit for cars and where the biker is boss. They cater to up to 5,000 cyclists a day."
Both agree on the importance of road education for cyclists, but also of improving road sharing. "I appreciate that cyclists do commit offenses," Kristensen says. "But I think every time you break the law, it is because of an infrastructure problem."