Enrique Peñalosa presided over the transition of a city that the world–and many residents–had given up on. Bogota had lost itself in slums, chaos, violence, and traffic…He built more than a hundred nurseries for children. He built 50 new public schools and increased enrolment by 34 percent. He built a network of libraries. He created a highly-efficient, “bus highway” transit system. He built or reconstructed hundreds of kilometers of sidewalks, more than 300 kilometres of bicycle paths, pedestrian streets, and more than 1,200 parks.
And much of the mayor’s success stemmed from a decision to reclaim urban spaces from private cars, by restricting parking (no more cars on sidewalks!), raising gas taxes to pay for rapid transit, and reprogramming money for roads to other, more pressing concerns.
Peñalosa’s speech at the recent World Urban Forum in Vancouver, B.C., was, uh, well-received, to put it mildly. According to the author:
I’ve never seen a crowd of planners, politicians and sustainability wonks go wild like they did after Peñalosa’s address. The guy got a standing ovation. Stuart Ramsey, a B.C. transportation engineer, explained why.
“Bogota has demonstrated that it is possible to make dramatic change to how we move around our cities in a very short timeframe,” he said. “It’s simply a matter of choosing to do so. We could improve our air quality and dramatically reduce our emissions anytime we want. It’s easy to do. For example, we can improve the capacity of our existing bus system without adding a single bus. All it would take is a can of paint, and you’d have dedicated bus lanes. It doesn’t require huge amounts of money. It simply requires a choice.”