By Clara Sanguinetti, Head of the Directorate General of Design & Implementation, Undersecretary of Mobility Planning for the City of Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, capital and largest city of Argentina, has a population of almost 3 million inhabitants spread over 200 km2 and 48 neighborhoods, which are grouped into 15 ‘comunas’. With a well-structured and mature transportation network, composed of urban and metropolitan bus systems, BRT, subway, train, highways, intermodal stations and a center for management and monitoring of urban mobility, the city of Buenos Aires has been betting on the bicycle as a means of transportation – a mobility policy that has shown results and kickstarted a true revolution on two wheels. The use of the bicycle as a means of transportation has been growing consistently, with a goal to reach 1 million daily trips in 2023.
In 2009, the year the development of Buenos Aires’ protected bikeway network began, the modal split for bicycles was 0.4%. Ten years later, this figure has been multiplied tenfold, reaching 4%. But this growth was not by chance: a commitment made by the local government was essential to ensure that more people left their cars at home and opted for bicycles. By 2020, the city had a sophisticated and very well-structured network of bicycle lanes. With 267km in 2021 and with the goal of reaching 300km by 2023, this network connects the city’s main points of interest, key avenues, and the bus, train, and metro stations (or “subte”, an abbreviation of “subterraneo” in Spanish), creating a cohesive and comprehensive transportation system. In addition, bicycle users can take their bikes inside the subte cars, thus allowing longer and more intermodal trips. Another positive point of this municipal commitment was the provision of 250 “EcoBici” bike sharing stations with 2300 bicycles.
Growth of bicycle travel in Buenos Aires
Similar to many metropolises, the pandemic was responsible for drastically changing mobility patterns in Buenos Aires. Pre-pandemic, total daily travel was almost 9 million trips, with 50% of trips by public transport, 22% by private car, 20% on foot, 4% by bicycle and 4% by other means of transport. By 2020, total trips halved to approximately 4 million. With the occupancy restrictions imposed on the public transportation system and other health requirements, the number of trips on public transportation has dropped to 29% of the total number of trips. On the other hand, the amount of trips on individual transport, both motorized and non-motorized, increased, especially on bicycles, from 320,000 trips in 2019 to 405,000 in 2020 – an increase of 27%! What’s more, there was a 50% increase in parcel deliveries by bicycle and a 131% increase in bicycle sales.
The pandemic period also served as an important moment to review the approach to planning the bikeway network and rethinking the bicycle as an important mobility tool. After all, 65% of trips that take place within the city are between 0 and 5km.
Previously, Buenos Aires preferred to build cycling infrastructure on secondary and residential streets, despite seeing a high demand for bicycle trips on the city’s main avenues, such as Avenida Córdoba, Avenida Corrientes, Avenida Estado de Israel and Avenida Angel Gallardo. Therefore, in September 2020, 17km of inexpensive and quick-to-implement bike lanes were designed and executed. The goal of these bike paths was to rapidly guarantee road space for the bicycle, because the project could be improved over time. The results were stunning: after one month of operation of these pop-up bike lanes, the numbers of bicycle trips on Cordoba Avenue rose 186% and on Corrientes Avenue 113%. But most importantly are the number of women’s bike trips, which tripled on these new corridors during the same period. These numbers corroborate the findings of a recent study by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change which, after analyzing data from bicycle counters in 106 European cities, concluded that the new bike lanes and bicycle infrastructure built during the pandemic induced an increase in bicycling as a mode of transportation. Currently, Buenos Aires’ pop-up bike lanes are being consolidated and improved, thus becoming a permanent part of the city’s structured network of protected bike lanes.
We at the City of Buenos Aires are adamant about converting the bicycle into a real, safe, ecological, economic and pleasurable means of transportation. We are also keen to redefine the urban landscape and use the bicycle as a fundamental axis of a new social and environmental contract. To do so, we are investing in quality infrastructure through the expansion of the network of bike lanes and the creation of a secure parking system for bicycles on public roads; developing the economy associated with the market for buying and selling bicycles; expanding children’s and recreational cycling programs; engaging in collaborative work with entities, citizens and NGOs in the sector; expanding the Ecobici system of public bicycles; and finally, guaranteeing public and private contributions to finance these investments.
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