Biking for a Better City

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Cyclists riding around the Monterrey area.

Photo courtesy of Pueblo Bicicletero

Cyclists riding around the Monterrey area.

MONTERREY, Mexico – It’s a regular Sunday afternoon in Monterrey. While most people are home with their families or enjoying the last days of summer inside their ranch houses–due to the nearly 40 degree heat–a handful have decided to do something “crazy”. At six in the afternoon, people start gathering at the local plaza, bringing along their bicycles, helmets, fluorescent clothes, and most importantly, their thirst for change. Despite the overwhelming heat, which makes it hard to breath, cyclists assemble, and thirty minutes later, they start their ride.

In Monterrey, cycling is new. This is the city of the mountains, where streets are usually uphill, where avenues are mere concrete plaques with no trees around, where there is little shade and lots of heat, where cars have priority over anyone else on the street. It is a difficult place for people to move in any “alternative way,” including walking or biking.  However, all of this is starting to change.

It all started in April 26th 2009 when, as part of the Annual Earth Festival, a group of Monterrey activists decided to bike through downtown protesting the lack of green areas, alternative transportation options, and the excessive contamination suffered in the city.

“Members of the collective Frontera Cero convened to a biking protest with the objective of participating in this festival and to send a message about the lack of green areas, contamination, the excessive amount of cars, the fact that there is no ecological education,” explains David Pulido, one of the organizers of the city’s first cycling group. “And, well, that generated interest to form a mass movement regarding a sustainable way of transportation. It quickly developed into something bigger.”

Inspired by this first protest, as well as similar bicycle protests held in Mexico City, a group of around twenty people started organizing monthly reunions in Monterrey.  They soon became “Pueblo Bicicletero”, the first cycling movement in the city.

The Pueblo Bicicletero group

Photo courtesy of Pueblo Bicicletero

The Pueblo Bicicletero group

Four years later, this movement has expanded and now it is known and joined by a larger amount of citizens. Now, instead of twenty, you can see between 70 and 100 people riding every Sunday in the downtown area.

“The number of cyclists has been increasing in the last years. Each year has its lower seasons for this activity, being primarily during the winter,” stated Pueblo Bicicletero in an e-mail.

Aside from the increase of participation within the group, more collectives have emerged in this city. All part of a national network called Bici-Red. Because cycling is a Mexican-wide trend, say cyclists, these groups’ efforts are not isolated and thus have a better chance of being noticed.

In Monterrey, this has meant it is now possible for a person to participate every day of the week in every part of the county, going from family-urban level to “advanced x-treme”, appealing to a wide swath of the population and giving the opportunity to whoever wants to join in.

Luis Espino, a 26-year-old business owner, founded  “Pedoleros”, a group of around 10 people that ride and hike in the city’s boundaries every Monday night. Espino explains that he first started cycling a year and a half ago, after being invited by some friends. For him, the draw was physical fitness: “I realized I had no physical condition and I had to change that.”

Besides health, there are plenty of other reasons people started joining these movements in Monterrey. Some are practical: Rodrigo Ocampo, a member of Pueblo Bicicletero has been there for a year now because he realized that “I live in downtown and it is very difficult to find a parking space.”

Other, have been biking since they were kids: “At first they use to send me run errands, then I started going around different neighborhoods, farther every time, without permission,” laughed a member while remembering his childhood.

However, this is not the only activity that these groups take as part of their responsibilities. Along with their cycling and cultural goals, they also want to transform the city into “a healthy metropolis, accessible and inclusive,” according to their website.

Activists have pushed for the inclusion of pedestrians and bicycles in the city’s official Traffic Regulations, and the incorporation of funds dedicated to urbanism in the Federal Budget. This, they say, has meant a lot of effort, and they are often ignored by authorities. However, say cyclists, they believe in the importance of sustainable mobility so they are still fighting for it.

Future projects focus on outreach. One of these is the “House of Cycling,” which will serve as a community space to promote sustainable life-styles thanks to cultural projects, a public garage, and as a hotel for cyclists from all over the world.

According to David Pulido, an organizer of Pueblo Bicicletero, “The message is that this house will give us a space where we can invite people and provide workshops on sustainable mobility, or riding your bike in a urban area.”

The “House of Cycling”, as he explains, is a way to inform – and help –the population at large, including people who use bicycles as their way of transportation, which in Monterrey was usually associated with lower social classes.

Another goal is to reach new groups, he added. For this reason, prices for workshops and bike maintenance will be kept low. “We don’t only want to reach the new cyclist but also workers and students, people that don’t go to the movements but that use their bikes everyday.”

For the 50 members of Pueblo Bicicletero, who just finished a ride on Sunday night, their objective is clear. Sweating and smiling, despite the heat and the long ride, they had enough energy to wrap things up with a chant “One more bike! One less car!”

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