Madeline Kreider Carlson

¡Viva la Ciclovía!

I love cities, travel and bikes. What could be better than exploring a new, exciting urban space from the saddle of a bike?

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Ciclovia stretching down Calle Séptimo, one of Bogotá’s main arteries

Last week I got to participate in one of the most iconic urban bike adventures on the planet: Ciclovía in Bogotá, Colombia.

Ciclovía: the movement

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Bogota bike mural
A bike-themed mural in Bogotá featuring a quirky cast of characters

Ciclovías, also called Open Streets events, happen worldwide. There are events in more than 100 U.S. cities: notoriously car-obsessed Los Angeles hosts one of the largest, CicLAvía. When Pope Francis visited Philadelphia, the city closed its streets to cars and bike lovers cleverly celebrated with #PopenStreets. Here in Colorado, Fort Collins is kicking off its third year of Open Streets festivals.

The city that loves bikes

Ciclovía/Open Streets began not in Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Portland, but in another urban bike mecca: Bogotá. Every Sunday, main streets throughout Colombia’s capital are closed to car traffic and Bogotá’s citizens come out in force—nearly a quarter of the city’s 7 million residents, on average—to enjoy their city at a human pace.

My sister and I recently spent ten days in Colombia. On our first day in Bogotá, we borrowed bikes and joined millions of others on the streets for Ciclovía.


The streets were full of people young and old: packs of kitted-out Lycra-clad riders, teenagers on bright-colored fixies and families with kids teetering on training wheels. The bikes were as diverse as the riders: full-suspension mountain bikes, sleek road bikes, cruisers, tricycles, vintage road bikes, creaking beaters.

Lining the roads, we witnessed a thriving economy of food carts, coffee stands, fresh-squeezed juice vendors, free Zumba classes, hawkers, street performers, social activists and artisans. The atmosphere everywhere was electric and joyful.

Greta and ciclotaller

Here’s my sister Greta cruising along. The red tent in the background is a ciclotaller (bike workshop). Ciclotalleres pop up all along the Ciclovía routes for anyone who needs to pump up their tires or get a quick mechanical fix. Brilliant!

Below, a traffic-calming obstacle course slows riders heading down a big hill. Signage along Ciclovía routes reminded participants that Ciclovía is about enjoying the ride, not about speeding through the streets.

Traffic calming obstacle course

Multimodal masterpieces

One side effect of working in bike advocacy: I notice transportation infrastructure everywhere I go. I can’t help it. In Bogotá, there was lots to admire (here’s a virtual tour).

“When we build very high quality bicycle infrastructure, besides protecting cyclists, it shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally as important to one in a $30,000 car,” Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa declared in 1999, justifying the funding of many miles of new ciclorutas (bike paths) crisscrossing the city.

Here’s a scene from one of Bogotá’s main thoroughfares. A few lanes in each direction are designated for cars. There are also two dedicated lanes for the TransMilenio rapid-transit buses. In the wide median between the two roadways are the TransMilenio stations, greenery and an awesome cicloruta.

Multimodal - websize

On another major street, check out this cebra (crosswalk—though the literal translation is ‘zebra’). Visible, safe and even playful!

La Cebra

It all makes for a pleasant, convenient and safe environment for everyone to move and live in their city, regardless of their transportation choice.

The city that loves bikes people

Madeline at ciclovia - websizeThe magic of Ciclovía, for me, is the democracy of public space in action. It’s a party to celebrate urban areas and everyone’s invited. During the ride, I wished I could experience every city this way.

Too often, roads can be dangerous, polluted, traffic-choked and decidedly un-fun spaces that don’t feel very friendly to people. Ciclovía reclaims roads as places for joy and community. Ciclovía felt like Bogotá’s way of loving its people and an opportunity for people to love and celebrate Bogotá, too.

For a Ciclovía experience closer to home, check out this Sunday’s Open Streets event in Fort Collins. Have you participated in a Ciclovía? Do you know of other Open Streets events here in Colorado? Share your experience in the comments.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Madeline Kreider Carlson

About the Author: Madeline Kreider Carlson


Kati - Reply

Very cool, Madeline!

    Madeline Kreider Carlson - Reply

    Thanks for reading, Kati! Hope to see you soon.

Doug - Reply

Great article, Madeline! I hope those in Bogota using a bicycle for transportation during the work week find travel as comfortable and welcoming as those out on bicycles for their Sunday recreation.

    Madeline Kreider Carlson - Reply

    Hi Doug, I’m sure Bogota isn’t utopia– one of my friends there mentioned that plenty of drivers don’t pay enough attention to bikes and pedestrians. I was impressed, though, that many main arteries have bike paths totally separate from cars, and most on-street bike lanes have concrete curbs or other forms of protection from traffic. Thanks for reading!

Larry - Reply

Thank you Madeline! I myself get to travel all over the world, as well as the United States. Bicycling, walking, Public Transportation rule in many countries. Nice article on your adventure.

    Madeline Kreider Carlson - Reply

    Hi Larry, lucky you! It’s always fascinating to see how other places differ from home, and transportation is no exception. Personally I think a bicycle is one of the best ways to explore & get around no matter where I am!

      Larry - Reply

      …additional… I liked the artwork (AKA…Graffiti) photos. I always carry a camera with me when I am out for a ride or run while traveling…and I have come across quite fine works of art. Thanks for sharing!

Linda - Reply

I especially liked the mayors comment that a person on a $30 bike is just as important (therefor valued) as a person in a $30000 car.

    Madeline Kreider Carlson - Reply

    So inspiring to hear that from a mayor, right? Thanks for reading, Linda.

pam - Reply

We love San Francisco’s “Sunday Streets”- walk, run, dance, bike, explore.

Mirra - Reply

Nice piece, Maddie! I’m envious of your trip.


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