Travels On my Mind: Bogota, Colombia

Bogota Travel Blog

 › entry 6 of 6 › view all entries

Plenisphere put the idea of travelling to Colombia on my mind. Plenisphere must be one of those people who really have a severe case of travel-itis and  ( I suspect) must have spent most of his waking hours  researching about places where he want to go next. Plenisphere said Bogota is one of the world's safests cities for women (at least based on his research). Something that I find prespoterous. I always associate Colombia with drug cartels and drug related violence, so how can Bogota  be safe for women (or for any human being for that matter?)?

It was during the Asian Clean Energy forum held in the ADB headquarters in Manila that my perspective on Bogota changed.  One of the main speakers of the forum is former Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa in which he talked about how to make a city both ecologically and socially sustainable. And what is a better model for that than Bogota - where traffic jam is practically non-existent, pedestrians can walk safely, and children aren't scared to play in the streets?  Penalosa, has been largely credited for making Bogota for what it is now.      
As Penalosa himself said, "a good city must be planned, designed and built around the needs of PEOPLE, not the needs of cars."

Wich is why for Penalosa constructing more highways won't solve traffic jams. Rather, it's having a more efficient public transport system and encouraging people to use the bike, instead of a car, for mobility. In Bogota, at least based on what Penalosa said (and the pictures of Bogota that he presented), Bogota is definitely lovely, the street looks clean, there are buses that transport people, and there are bike lanes which enable people to bike safely.  And if only for that I'd love to go to Bogota, just to know for myself if Penalosa's Bogota is for real. 

Of course anyone in any city can bike to work, but try doing that in Manila. Not only would a biker get dirty from the fumes, he/she might get mugged, or killed - by a speeding bus, jeepney or car or get his/her lungs poisoned by dirty air pollution. I dont ride a bike (one of the many motoring skills that a klutz like me could hardly master)  but I agree with what Penalosa said about bikes:  
"A protected bicycle way is a symbol of democracy. It shows that a citizen on a $ 40 bicycle is equally important as one on a $ 40,000 car."
Bikes are very democratic and environment friendly and people should use it.

But then, planning a city such as Bogota also requires a change in the city folks attritude and I don't see Pinoys giving up their fondness for cars. It doesn't matter if it's second hand or that they can barely afford to pay the installments or that a car is not a worth investment as its value depreciates, for most Filipinos, having a car is a status symbol. I remembered one media coleague who was so obsessed to buy a car that she begged her brother to lend her money to purchase a car - something which she deems really important as she's one person who really loves to brag and showing off a brand new car is the way for her to cover up her insecurities. Filipinos will always buy a car instead of investing it on education or mutual funds. (another colleague who chose to sell her car told me that she'd rather spend her money traveling instead of paying for car maintenance. I sooo agree with her).   Not to mention that well, in Manila, it's really difficult to be mobile without a car.

But changing a mindset wil take a perhaps a lifetime to do. That said, there are few things that can be done which can actually reduce car use. As Penalosa said, people don't use the public transport system because they care for the environment. what will encourage people to use the transport system is to make it more efficient and affordable. Which is why, unlike the crowded and oh so inconvenient MRT in Metro Mabnila (have you tried climbing the steep stairs which can give you a heart attack and queing for tickets here?) - MRT is the way to in Singapore and Bangkok. Trains in both cities are clean, air conditioned and efficient. I never stopped telling my friends that in the Lion City, learning how to drive a car is NOT a necessary motor skill. But in the Philippines, where public transport system sucks, it's just easier and convenient to buy a car. 

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photo by: caliphil007