Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bicycle + Motor = ?Bicycle?

A bicimotor roars down Ave. Jimenez, the Eje Ambiental, in downtown Bogotá.
No pedaling needed:
A motorized bicycle on Ave. Septima's bike lane.
Take a bicycle, add a gasoline motor, and you get - a bicycle? Well, no. A bicycle with a motor is, by definition, a motorcycle.

But the owners of such 'bicimotores,' which are proliferating in Bogotá, are convinced that their cheap, mini motorcycles are, actually, just bicycles.

Motorized bicycles may provide cheap transportation, but they also generate problems for real cyclists. Bicimotores are noisy, can belch out more pollution than a car, and roar along at speeds close to conventional motorcycles.

A bicyclist using a bike lane as a refuge from car traffic, or - even worse - a pedestrian walking along a sidewalk, shouldn't be subjected to one of these machines.

What doesn't fit here? A motorized bicycle
in a Bogotá bike shop.
But, because they have motors smaller than 50 cubic centimeters, the bicimotores occupy a legal vacuum in which they are subject to no motor vehicle laws. As a result, a bicimotor, which has no noise or emissions controls and whose user doesn't need a driver's license, exemplifies the worst aspects of a motor vehicle. And, yet, those bicimotor users seem to believe that they enjoy all the privileges of silent, non-polluting, human-powered vehicles.

I've encountered bicimotores on Bogotá's Ciclorutas and even La Ciclovia, where they contradict La Ciclovia's of promoting health and physical activity.

Bicimotores may have a legitimate role as cheap transportation. But, as motorized vehicles, they should be subject to motor vehicle laws, as well. And, they should stay out of bicycle-only areas.

Fortunately, an attorney with Bogotá's legal office recently issued an opinion reaching the common sense conclusion that bicimotores are not bicycles and therefore may not use the city's bike lanes, (and, presumably, not La Ciclovia either).

But those of us living in Bogotá know there's a huge gulf between what laws say and what really happens. Will the police do their job here?
A legal opinion from Bogotá's legal office concludes that motorized cycles may not use bike lanes. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Landmark Law You Never Heard Of

Carrera 30 near the Universidad Nacional on a typical afternoon. 
Going nowhere, and inching along to get there.
While you were getting ready for the holidays, Colombia's Congress passed a law which, if well implemented, could revolutionize Bogotá's economy and quality of life.

The law doesn't sound very earth-shattering: It allows cities with more than 300,000 inhabitants to create urban tolls. Drivers, of course, won't like it. But these tolls, also known as congestion charges, are the only realistic solution to Colombia's mounting traffic jams.

Another day, another
traffic jam in Bogotá.
We all know that traffic jams waste our time - but they also cause other, less obvious kinds of harm, including stress and air pollution. In fact, the World Bank concluded that the health impacts of traffic congestion cost Colombia almost 1% of its gross domestic product. Add to that all lost time and wasted fuel, and congestion creates a huge drain on Colombia's economy and quality of life.

And things will only get worse. The number of cars in Colombia tripled between the year 2000 and 2012, and looks to continue rising, compounding the nation's traffic troubles. At the same time, more and more Colombians are moving into cities.

Pro-cycling campaigns are great, but are overwhelmed by the flood of car commercials. Share-your-car campaigns, lose out before people's immediate, short-term self-interest. (Automobile use exemplifies 'The Tragedy of the Commons': It's a behavior which (apparently) benefits people individually while damaging society as a whole.

The only way to change driving habits is by altering drivers' self interests. And that means making them pay for the delays and pollution their driving causes. Tolls are one way to do that. Another are high-occupancy vehicle lanes, which haven't been created in Bogotá, for reasons that are beyond me.

Drivers will wail and gnash their teeth over urban tolls. But, in practice, they will be the first to benefit from shorter driving times - and time is money.

A Singapore firm did a preliminary study on congestion pricing for Bogotá. An English firm is now doing a more detailed study.

They should know. Both London and Signapore have used congestion pricing succesfully for years to reduce traffic jams and pollution. Bogotá would do well to emulate those leading metropoli instead of going the way of urban basket cases like Caracas and Sao Paolo.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, December 23, 2013

Foreign Profits Win Out Over Colombian Lungs

Lobbying by U.S. truck makers means Bogotanos will suffer from smoke-spewing trucks for years to come, The Chicago Tribune reports.  
It's a story which should embarass all Colombians - and shame those of us from the United States.

This year, the Colombian Ministry of the Environment planned to require emission filters on all new
A Coca Cola truck contributes to Bogotá's air - and lungs.
Filters can remove 90% of particulate pollutants.
trucks - an environmental/health measure long required in developed countries.

But U.S. truck manufacturers, which dominate the Colombian market, cried out to heaven, the Chicago Tribune reports. The air quality measures gave unfair advantage to European manufacturers, they claimed (because the Europeans make cleaner vehicles, perhaps?). The truck makers and buyers also claimed that environmental measures were too expensive for Colombia - even tho the lack of such controls costs Colombians many billions of dollars every decade in health and other costs, according to Universidad de los Andes Dean of Engineering Eduardo Behrentz (as well as untold human suffering).

Bogotá's buses don't bother with filters, either. 
Conveniently, the malleable Colombian environmental authorities postponed the new filter requirement until early 2015, the Tribune reports (and we'll see what happens in 2015).

"The Colombian government is on the (industry) side, and it's allowing the import of technologies that are considered obsolete in the country where they were created," Behrentz told the Tribune.

The truck makers and buyers apparently also used free trade agreements Colombia has signed to argue that health and environmental measures impose unfair restrictions on capitalism, according to the Tribune piece.

But the immense health damage from air pollution, which causes thousands of premature deaths every year in Bogotá alone, means other kinds of restrictions on people's lives.

Of course, trucks aren't the only culprits contaminating our lungs. Spend a short time on a Bogotá street and you'll see that cars, buses, trucks and factories all share the responsibility - as do the authorities who turn a blind eye to the problem.

EcoPetrol recently invested huge sums to lower the sulphur levers in the country's diesel fuel to 50 parts per million - a respectable level for a developing nation. But Behrentz says that money's wasted as long as the country doesn't require emissions controls and allows decades-old vehicles to continue operating.
Even police vehicles flout environmental laws.

Behrentz, who helped write the law which was postponed, sounds embarrased about his own government.

"I don't praise my own government that chose (foreign companies') interest over the interest of the Colombian people," he told the Tribune.

Also check out my blog (in bad Spanish) specifically about air pollution:
The result...smog blankets Bogotá.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Twilight of Colombia's Indigenous People?

Award-winning photos of the Nayak indigenous people by Rommel Rojas Rubio. The Nayak, who are mostly traditional hunter-gatherers, face multiple threats to their survival as a people.

The Nukaks, hunter-gatherers who live in the jungles of Guaviare Department, are threatened by colonizing farmers, armed groups and drug crops, which invade their territory. Rommel Rojas Rubio's photographs of Nayak life were among the winners of the Third Award for Photogrqphy about the Cultural Patrimony of the Nation

Prosecutors have documented more than 6,000 indigenous victims of abuse by armed groups, mostly paramilitaries, 
¿Life with no future for the Nayak?
between 1995 and 2006. Abuses include forced displacement, sexual assaults, massacres and forced recruitment of children. The worst single atrocity was probably the 2001 massacre by paramilitary fighters of more than 110 Naya people living near the border between Cauca and Nariño departments. The massacre forced more than 5,000 indigenous people and Afro-Colombians to flee their lands. 

Another recent Colombian government report found that between 2003 and 2012 more than 1,000 indigenous Colombians were murdered by outlaw groups and, since 2007, more than 79,000 were driven off of their lands. In many cases, the violence was intended to steal those lands, according to indigenous rights organizations. 

Anthropologists estimate that, after the Europeans arrived in the Americas, between two-thirds and 90% of the indigenous people were killed by massacres, forced labor and European diseases. Today, that genocide continues. According to yet another government report, of Colombia's 102 indigenous ethnic groups, 32 have populations of fewer than 500 people, 18 have fewer than 200 people and 10 fewer than 100.
A Nayak man and Ave. Septima, in front of the Museo Nacional. 
Other award-winning photos:

'The Forgetting of a Ghost Pier,' by Juan Sebastian Pinilla. Puerto Colombia's old pier, built in 1888, was the longest pier in the Americas and the third-longest in the world. 

'Subsistir' (Tiago el Pescador/Tiago the Fisherman), by Jorge Panchoaga. 

'Ciudad Blanca' - Long exposure night-time photos of the campus of the Universidad Nacional in Bogotá, by Guillermo Santos. 

'Hilar y Esquilar,' by Sandra Suárez Quintero. Shearing a sheep at the Festival de la Lana en Cucunubá.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, December 20, 2013

Drummond Gets Fined - But It's All Fine

Coal pollution in Santa Marta Bay.
The Ministry of the Environment hit Drummond with a heavy fine - by Colombian standards - for spilling some 500 tons of coal off of barge into Santa Marta Bay in January and delaying reporting it. The company is also required, among other things, to clean the bay's floor of coal and pay for a public environmental education campaign.

The fine of 6.97 billion pesos, or about $3.6 million, is a lot of money to you or me, but amounts to about 0.12% of Drummond's 2012 revenue of around $3 billion. I suspect that Drummond has insurance and that these are just routine operating expenses for the multinational.

Drummond says that the accident "could have happened to anyone" and that only a coal slurry was dumped into the water to prevent an even worse disaster.

And the coal business is profitable enough that, despite the potential for more fines, Drummond, plans to continue loading coal the dangerous, dirty and old fashioned way off of Santa Marta. Six years ago, the ministry gave coal companies until Jan. 1, 2014 to build safer direct-loading coal terminals and eliminate those dirty barges. Other coal companies have made the change, but Drummond apparently found it cheaper - even with the fines - and easier to continue using dirty barges than to meet the deadline. The company now says it will build a new loading system by next March.

In announcing the fine, Minister of the Environment Luz Helena Sarmiento emphasized that nobody, but nobody, gets away with violating those tough Colombian environmental laws.

"In Colombia, it won't continue happening that nothing is done to those who don't comply with the law," she said. "There will be daily sanctions, no matter which company it is, nor the resources it has."

Related posts:

Colombia "On the Verge of an Environmental Disaster."

Colombia's Real Coal Crisis

Drummond Coal's Cynical Strategy

But I guess the minister's strong words don't apply to air pollution violations.

Where are those 'daily sanctions' when we need them?

So, when will something happen to this bus that's not complying with the law?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, December 19, 2013

No Longer Wandering - Colombia's Gypsies

A Colombo-Gipsy family.
The Archivo de Bogotá has this exhibition thru February about a tiny and little-known Colombian minority - the Romani, better known as Gypsies.

According to the Archivo, many of the Roma immigrated to Colombia around the turn of the last century from nations including France, Rusia and Serbia. Others came around the time of WWI and WWII - when the Nazis carried out a genocide against European Gypsies. 

Today, between 5,000 and 10,000 people of Roma descent live in Colombia, including some 500 in Bogotá, altho many have apparently assimilated into the broader culture. Despite their tiny numbers and foreign origin, the Romani have official minority status in Colombia.

Gypsy girls. 
In Chile, in contrast, the Gypsies were much more conspicuous, often reading palms in parks and plazas. Like many children, I once had a romantic vision of gypsies, who represented travel, music and freedom from work and discipline. But, meeting real Gypsies in Chile cured that. While bike touring there, I came upon a Gypsy encampment of colorful trucks and tents alongside a river. They had been there for several days, occupied burning the rubber off of power cable they had obtained somewhere. A young woman complained to me about the boredom - and my romantic vision evaporated. Another time, I pedaled into a small town and residents told me that a gypsy caravan had stopped nearby. I rode over eager to hear that wonderful Gypsy music. Instead, inside the circle of Gypsy tents, they were playing Ricky Martin. 

According to the Archivo de Bogotá, by the early 1970s most Colombian Gypsies had given up their wandering way of life in favor of houses - altho they still change addresses often. 

The exterior of the Archivo Nacional, which also has an exhibition about Bogotá women of yesteryear.

A Gypsy pot. 

The Roma people's National Anthem.
'I walked and walked along long roads.
'I encountered fortunate gipsies.

'Hi boys! From where do you come
with those tents and hungry children?

A Gypsy potmaker.

A non-Gypsy girl in Christmas attire.

Blue Night, a Roma love poem. 

A hand-made gipsy pot. 

Two Gypsy pots.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Petro Conspiracies

Last year's garbage crisis: A conspiracy?
I don't go much for conspiracy theories. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy, (probably on his own initiative), that Juan Roa Sierra shot Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, that the Nazi Holocaust actually happened and that Apollo really did land on the Moon.

But did Bogotá's private garbage collection companies conspire last year to fill the streets with garbage and embarrass Mayor Gustavo Petro when he tried to transfer trash collection from private to public hands? It's just possible.

That theory has become a favorite of Petro's supporters, who are now fighting against Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez's decision to oust the mayor because of mishandling of the garbage scheme last year.

Inspector General Ordoñez. Should Petro thank him?
This story in today's El Espectador seems to support the conspiracy ideas - altho it's not clear to me where the interviewee got his evidence.

But now, with the Registraduría Nacional's ill-timed ruling that a recall vote on Petro's mayoralty will go ahead, any conspiracy might actually go in Petro's favor.

The past week, Petro and his supporters have been arguing, both here in Colombia and internationally, that the Inspector General's order is anti-democratic. After all, Petro was elected by Bogotá's citizens, whereas Ordoñez was appointed by Congress.

Before Ordoñez's ruling, Petro had been fighting the recall vote tooth and nail, filing myriad tutelas to delay or prevent the vote. After the Registraduría's decision today, Petro said he welcomed the recall vote and would do nothing to delay it.

Undoubtedly, Petro sees a recall vote victory as legitimizing his rule and 'proving' Ordoñez wrong.

Mayor Petro: Benefiting
from the garbage crisis?
And, paradoxically, Petro has Ordoñez to thank for that. After all, before Ordoñez's ruling, Petro's support was at about 40%. After the right-wing Ordoñez decided to oust Petro and ban him from politics for 15 years - a decision which most Bogotanos believe is far out of proportion to the offense - Petro's support jumped above 50%. The decision also made the arrogant Petro look like a victim and rallied his supporters into an active force.

Suddenly, with more public support and a motivated backers, Petro's recall vote chances look much stronger.

But, before he can face that vote (likely to happen in late February), Petro must find a way to delay or suspend Ordoñez's ruling. Today, Petro was in Washington D.C. appealing  for support to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

If Petro can evade ouster and go on to win a recall election, that would give his administration new energy - all thanks to the private garbage companies and Procurador Ordoñez.

A conspiracy? Perhaps Petro himself planned it all.

(Most bizzarely, even if Petro is ousted, the recall election will still go ahead, forcing Bogotanos to finance an expensive election about a politician who's already out of office.)

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours