A Tale of Three Cities: Sunday Cycling in Lima, Peru
One of the best part about attending Congresses of the Ciclovia Network (CRA) is the chance to get out on a bike in cities throughout Latin America. In early December I went to Lima, Peru, a city of about 9 million (5th largest in the Americas, 27th in the world) located on the Pacific coast of Peru. Lima is made up of 30 districts with their own mayors overseen by the mayor of Lima. A study in contrasts, Lima boasts one of Latin America’s most robust economies, a tradition of education and literary achievement as well as large areas of extreme poverty inhabited by people who fled the highlands to escape a bloody insurgency in the 1990s.
Like most L.A. cities, traffic is constant, dirty and dangerous, especially for people walking and cycling. Much of the traffic consists of taxis and micro buses on the constant hunt for customers–threatening cyclists every time they veer to the curb for a fare. Public transit is poor–Lima’s first Bus Rapid Transit line opened only in 2011 and serves a very limited area.
As for bicycle facilities, there are few, mostly bike paths built in the median of large boulevards in the richer sections of Lima–Miraflores and San Isidro–built since I was last there for the first Dia Sin Autos (Car-Free Day) in 2008.
But the spirit of Ciclovia is about “opening the streets” to people. On any given Sunday, you can find Ciclovias taking place all over metropolitan Lima, and for that matter, throughout Peru, thanks to the efforts of Enrique Jacoby who helped pass funding in the Health Minister’s budget to support these opportunities for people to get out and get active in their communities. (More on the Ciclovia movement here.)
Led by Octavio Lazarte of the bicycle activist group, Cicloaxion, led our group as we visited three very different Ciclovias in three very different cities within the metropolitan Lima area: Miraflores (a wealthy area by the sea), Comas (a “new city” of recent immigrants on the northern edge of Lima) and San Francisco de Porres (somewhat in-between).
Miraflores was our starting point. A well-to-do section of Lima, we joined cyclists decked out in full cycling gear who would fit right in with any peletòn in the US. Nice bikes abounded, there was an in-line skate competition and an air of calm as we pedaled the length of a tree-lined boulevard. Very Sunday morning feel. Including a slow, lazy start with few participants out before 9am.
Then we were off to Comas, a poor district on the northern edge of the city. We somehow loaded twenty bikes into the back of a bus and piled in for the 20 minute ride to a quite different experience. Comas residents get fresh water for only 3 hours a day (Lima is a subtropical desert, getting only 1-3 inches of rain a year, it is dependent for its water on shrinking glaciers in the Andes). The Ciclovia in Comas was 1 km long. I saw only 2 cyclists, reflecting the poverty of the community. But they took the spirit of “open streets” to a raucous level, turning the center 4 lanes of the 8 lane highway dividing the city into a playground for the day. There were spirited games of volleyball and football along with aerobic dancing and aikido demonstrations. Local groups also had booths to get out information on healthy living including treating drinking water as well as on exercise and nutrition.
The air was full of dirt and fumes from the traffic working its way around the Ciclovia. Trees had been planted but they all looked dead from lack of water and the pollution. The people in Comas were shorter and darker than those in Miraflores.
Finally, we went to a district midway between downtown and Comas. San Francisco de Porres is named for a Peruvian saint of African origin. SF de Porres is not rich like Miraflores nor as poor as Comas. Here there were a lot more people on bicycles, with lots of young children out with their families enjoying the freedom of a car-free street. We got there just before it was shut down so much of the festivities were over but the smiles we saw on the kids’ faces testified to the fun they had.