Some time, ago, I’m guessing about five years, they redid the “bandejón central” (kind of like a long traffic island) that goes down the length of the Alameda, or the main street in Santiago from about the Moneda Palace down to Pajaritos, a distance of several kilometers. The change was that they put in a bike path. People know it’s there, and since I often ride up the Alameda from about the Los Héroes metro station (near which I live) to past the Moneda, with some regularity, what people shout out at me (as I am riding up the left side of the Alameda because the right side has busses and taxis pulling over every few feet to pick up and drop off passengers, and door unsuspecting cyclists) is the following:
Ciclovía!!!!! (bike path).
Sometimes it’s a hiss, which I write with hs where I hear them
And so, since I often can’t catch every driver to educate them on the why nots of the ciclovía, I thought I’d make a public announcement about this bike path, and why a cyclist might choose not to take it.
-The bike path meanders. Meanders, I tell you. It runs down the middle of the traffic island, and then juts out to the pedestrian-filled crosswalks, and then back to the middle. On every corner. For dozens of blocks. Annoying! And slooooow. I bike because a) I like it b) it’s good for me, accidents notwithstanding c) it’s cheap cheap cheap and d) it’s often faster than public transportation. For example, twice a week, I take a class up in La Reina (about 10 km/6 mi away). Biking there takes 41 minutes at a comfortable pace in traffic. On public transportation it would take me an hour, squeeze me uncomfortably and cost me a couple of bucks. It’s a good option if I’m sick or it’s raining, but otherwise, no thanks.
-Going west (which is the better direction to take it, and it shall become clear why in a moment) is downhill. The ramps that go down the stairs are nearly invisible. You have to be right on top of them to see where they are. Sometimes there are reflectors to that indicate their location, or sometimes just paint, but the paint wears away, and if you’re doing anything other than scanning the ground 20 feet in front of you, you are likely as not to miss the paint, and either come screeching to a halt before pitching over the stairs, or taking the stairs down on your fixie. This happened to a friend of mine. Most unpleased.
-Pedestrians also enjoy the use of the bike path. I have no problem with pedestrians walking. It’s what they do best. But they are often directly where the bikes are supposed to go, and get in the way, further slowing the cyclist to a snail’s pace.
Now let’s look at some particular features of the part of the bike path that is right near my house. The first photo is as the bike path is going over the norte-sur, or as you may know it, I-5, or the Panamerican Highway.
Here we have two of my favorite features of the bike path. First, there is a 90-degree turn (in a very small space), with no mirror, into a blind curve. So you may or may not get to hit another cyclist or pedestrian, which as you know, is worth many points in the video game of life, with a double bonus for someone carrying something heavy or expensive, which they then drop. I always imagine this with a cake, and me getting “pied” in the face. I hope it’s not mil hoja. That could hurt.
Second, sometimes I leave the house without showering. Luckily, there is a giant puddle I can ride through on my way anywhere (if I took this bike path, which I don’t), to get a good dousing on my way out. True, only when it rains, but it rains every winter. Not a surprise.
Also, I don’t take the puddle personally, as there is also a drainage problem in front of the Moneda, or the presidential palace. This is not part of the bike path, I just wanted to show you that the engineers who planned Santiago have equal disregard for cyclists as they do for the government.
Sorry, now we’re back to the bike path again. If you have neither splatted another human, nor gotten doused, there is always the opportunity that you can experience a new Spanish word, an encerrón! Encerrón is getting trapped, for the purposes of mugging. I think this tunnel is the perfect place for it, don’t you?
Now, traveling further east (and this is very undesirable, and you will soon see why), you will not have trouble seeing the ramps that go up the stairs, because they are right in front of you. Nor will you miss the moment that you enter the ramp, because in many places, poor application of concrete have led to the first 5 or so inches of the ramps having broken off (I like to call this the nose), leaving at times a 3-4 inch lip for you to bump over on your bike. On every block. Let’s have a look, shall we?
All this is to say, I love biking, and I even love biking in Santiago, but I do not love biking up the Alameda bike path. If you do, that’s your prerogative, but I’ll take the motorist’s cry of “ciclovía” over risking, life, limb, splatting, splashing, mugging, falling, and hurting a part of me that is very dear to me, every time I go over one of those mini-curblets where ramps used to be.
And now, for those of you who speak Spanish and/or like a good laugh about bike paths, I present to you one of the funniest Vimeo videos I’ve ever seen, this one demonstrating (tongue in cheek like) how the bike path on Simón Bolivar (one of the worst offenders) was designed. It’s good for a giggle. If you don’t smash into a tree. And it’s not far from the truth. (from about 2:10 to 2:20 you can see the actual bike path. It’s IN-SANE.)