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Bicycles and Pedal Power Grow in Guatemala and Mexico. Is Costa Rica Next?

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Paseo Colon, Second Avenue and other main streets in San Jose were awash in orange during the morning hours of April 15. Such was the color of the shirts worn by hundreds of cyclists who took to the busy streets of Costa Rica’s capital for an event coordinated by the Embassy of the Netherlands and ChepeCletas, a group dedicated to promoting bicycle culture in Costa Rica.

According to event organizers, more than 400 riders were present at the event. ChepeCletas is very serious about pushing initiatives that will encourage more Ticos to consider bikes as alternative forms of transportation, and that will invariably require the cooperation of transit authorities, the government, municipalities, and motorists. Such initiatives may prove difficult in Costa Rica, as the love affair between Ticos and automobiles shows no signs of weakening. For this reason, ChepeCletas sought the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands, as the Dutch are masters of two-wheeled transportation and bicycle culture.

While very few in Costa Rica seem to be holding their collective breath over a significant adoption of bicycles as a bona fide form of transportation, two Latin American nations are embracing pedal power:

Bike-tivism in Mexico

Bicycle riders in Mexico City are very serious about their goal to open up more bike lanes throughout the crowded streets in this megacity of nearly 9 million people. According to a recent report by BBC World, biking activists in Mexico City are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to claiming cycling lanes.

They call them wiki-lanes, clearly marked lanes for bicycle traffic that riders painted themselves, without consulting engineers or authorities. The democratic process is alive and well in Mexico, but red tape is par for the course, and bike-tivists could not wait any longer. They painted a wiki-lane right in front of the National Congress building, and they are now organizing night rides through the streets of cities affected by drug cartel violence as a way of promoting peace.

Pedal Power in Guatemala

In the indigenous community of San Andres Itzapa, located in a mountainous region of Guatemala, people don’t get around on bicycles too much. They mostly get from point A to point B on foot, but when it comes to removing corn grains from husks or making a smoothie drink on a blender, they sit down at a stationary bike and pedal for miles without going anywhere.

In this Mayan village, discarded bicycle parts from the United States are rehabilitated, repurposed and put together into devices that accomplish many useful household tasks. The idea is to make life easier, just like electrical appliances –except that electricity and water are not guaranteed in rural Guatemala. According to a video report from Al Jazeera, an ingenuous shop in San Andres Itzapa comes up with contraptions that slightly resemble stationary bikes, but in reality are water pumps and even irrigation systems.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Transportation (MOPT) in Costa Rica is getting ready to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in highway infrastructure.

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