What is the Cycling Infrastructure Initiative?
With an anticipated 70% of the world population slated to live in urban areas by 2050, promoting sustainable modes of transportation is imperative both to the health of citizens and to the environment. For a city like Buenos Aires, with three million inhabitants and twice as many weekly commuters, disincentivizing the use of individual vehicles and promoting alternatives is urgent, yet challenging, as our world urbanizes rapidly.
As one of the most bike-friendly cities in Argentina, Buenos Aires has made valiant strides toward sustainable mobility in recent years. Promoting active transportation, increasing access to safe public transit, and reducing reliance on personal vehicles, Buenos Aires’ Cycling Infrastructure initiative provides a bold blueprint for reorganizing public space for increased mobility with citizen wellbeing in mind.
To bring this initiative to life, the City worked on strengthening community partnerships around the ecosystem of cycling and upgrading infrastructure to accommodate and protect more cyclists on the road. Over the last decade, the City has added more than 250km of bicycle lanes and converted numerous parking spaces into cycling infrastructure. It has also recently adopted a policy to make the public bike share system free at different points around the city. As a result, the average number of daily bicycle trips has grown from 25,000 in 2009 to 255,000 in 2019, the modal share of cycling increasing from 0.4% to 4%.
While the number of trips has gone up, the City has taken careful measures to ensure fatality rates have not. Some of these measures include improved signaling methods, creating a connected network of cycle lanes on secondary streets, and rolling out a public campaign to educate residents on how to bike and navigate the system safely, and educating potential cyclists on the new improvements. Thanks to these preventive actions, the City has been able to maintain the same fatality rate (an average of four fatalities per year) irrespective of increased use of bikes overall.
In addition to changes in allocation of public space and improved accessibility, the City of Buenos Aires has developed over the past ten years a network of more than 1,000 members of public, private, civilian, educational, and health sector actors interested in promoting safe bike use within the city. Members include bike shops, embassies, city employees, environmental consultants, and more. The city coordinates monthly surveys to track bicycle use and gather feedback from residents, as well as road safety observatory data to help monitor the effectiveness of bicycle lanes and safety methods. This continuous feedback from residents, in addition to the large network on board to support cycling, helps the city utilize a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach in maintaining the initiative, shifting the culture of the city towards more active and sustainable transportation, and improving the health and wellbeing of its residents.
As we’ve seen in many places in the world, bicycle use in Buenos Aires has increased during the pandemic, with daily trips rising by about 30%. Along with the positive feedback received not only from cyclists, but also from local residents, this has reiterated the City’s need to invest in active mobility. Unfortunately, despite high interest for the initiative, the second phase of the project (expanding the network, offering more coverage to areas underserved by public transport, and providing low-cost solutions to road infrastructures which are under pressure) is being challenged by financial constraints.