Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Transit Initiative Which Works

A bicyclist shares the bus lane (legally) on Carrera Septima.
I had deep doubts whether Petro's latest transit initiative, a bus lane on Carrera Septima, would actually work. The idea is good in principle - an inexpensive way to speed public transit by getting private cars - the least efficient form of transport - out of the way.
Solid buses. On this stretch, cars stayed out.

But would Bogotá drivers - not known for discipline and respecting laws - actually stay out of the bus lane? On a previous visit to Carrera Septima I didn't see much evidence of the bus lane in practice. But yesterday, between about 70th and 90th streets, it actually appeared to be operating.

Of course, it's also possible that these lanes are nearly bus-only all the time. Or, that drivers will start invading the lane once their fear of the hefty fine, implemented this week, wears off.

But this taxi shouldn't be here.
Still, city officials said that the policy has sped up traffic in the lane by 3 kms per hour. That migh not sound like a lot, but it could get you home for dinner or that TV show 20 minutes earlier. The city now plans to create bus-only lanes on other major avenues.

The contrast of this budget transit scheme with the city's multi-billion subway construction plan - which may never even actually happen - couldn't be greater.

When it comes to buses, green isn't always clean.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Happened to Authors Bookstore?

'For rent'. The sad scene in the Zona G. 
While pedaling thru the Zona G this afternoon, I passed by Authors bookstore and received a shock. The place is closed and has For Rent signs in the windows.

Authors was a landmark for Bogotá's anglophone and anglophile communities: it sponsored readings, hosted a writers' workshop (which published a book of short stories) and sold lots of books, both new ones and classic. I hope Authors is in the process of relocating, but I couldn't find any sign of it, either at their address or on the Internet. The store's Twitter and Facebook pages cut off back in March, and their website is dark.

And, if they were relocating, why didn't they take the awning with them?

Operating a bookstore is a real challenge nowadays, when fewer people read, and those who do often do so on electronic devices instead of dead trees pulped up and rolled out into pages. (I still prefer the paper books.) I've learned about the difficulty of the books trade at Bogotá Bike Tours, which has a selection of hundreds of used paperbacks in English, German, French and other languages, but few customers for them. Authors' selection was great, but the books were expensive. In Bogotá Bike Tours you can pick up a used paperback for a few thousand pesos; in the book district around Calle 15 and Carrera 9 you can pick up used paperbacks in English for 10,000 pesos and up.

I don't know of any English-only bookstores left in Bogotá, but stores like Lerner and the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center, both in La Candelaria, do have English-language sections.

Authors bookstore back in its heyday. (Foto:
A feast of books is gone. (Foto;
The writers group at Authors has hopefully found a new home.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Bandoleros; History thru Rose-Colored Glasses

Fun-filled bandoleros in the Parque Nacional.
In a time not so long ago, in a place not far away, there were people called bandoleros: Some say they were rag-tag bandits running about the countryside robbing and pillaging; others that they were good-hearted Robin Hoods who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.

The truth about these criminal groups from the 1940s, '50s and '60s will probably never be clear, and will always depend on the viewer's political perspective: For the wealthy and conservative they were a threat; for the poor, they were a kind of freedom fighters. But, for a theatre troupe performing in the Parque Nacional the other day, the bandoleros were comical, harmless fellows who did nobody any wrong.

I guess such an evolution is inevitable. After all, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and Redbeard the Pirate - all terrors in their own days - are now comic book characters and the laugh-lines on TV sitcoms. Will that happen one day to Colombia's guerrillas and paramilitaries? Perhaps, just as Pablo Escobar, who some say killed as many as 50,000 people, has become a decoration for t-shirts and a TV miniseries character.

Interestingly, the bandoleros have been back in the news recently - even if they haven't been mentioned. In the continuing debate in the Havana peace talks about who is a victim of Colombia's conflict and who isn't, the FARC guerrillas have proposed counting victims all the way to 1930 - decades before the FARC existed and Colombia's current conflict started.

Why do the FARC want to discuss victims who died so long ago? Perhaps to make their own violence appear to be just one more chapter in Colombia's long, violent history; Or, to involve - and blame - the Liberal and Conservative political parties, which carried out the fratricidal La Violencia of the 1940s and '50s. After all, FARC founder Manuel Marulanda was a bandolero before he founded the 'Republic of Marquetalia' which in 1964 gave birth to the FARC guerrillas. Most likely, it satisfies the communist vision that actions (read crimes) are nobody's fault, but inevitable results of historical injustices.

For an organization whose leaders are facing potential prison terms, that's a convenient interpretation.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Just Don't Call it 'Environmental'

Mayor Petro has used the 'Environmental Pico y Placa' as his legal tool to apply the Pico y Placa rule to private buses. (That decision triggered the short bus strike last week.) The Pico y Placa Ambiental was created by a previous mayor as a way to pressure bus companies to repair their buses and equip them with environmental controls, by restricting the use of buses belonging to companies which didn't meet certain standards. Very few bus fleets met the standards. But, instead of doubling down on these poisonous machines, the city government dropped the idea.

Now, Petro has resurrected the 'Environmental Pico y Placa - but ignoring the environmental criteria, and simply banning buses from the streets three days each week depending on the last digit of their license plates. The law is probably a good thing, particularly because Bogotá has a big oversupply of buses. But if Petro would actually enforce the law's environmental standards, then we'd all be breathing a lot easier. Here are a few pictures of belching buses I've seen the last few days.

Incidentally, even if Petro's Pico y Placa has done little to clean the air, the bus companies' three-day strike did do something, according to government measurements. RCN reports that during the strike carbon dioxide levels dropped 45%. That number seems way too large, but the air was cleaner.

Green is not always clean.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Mirror Play in the Park

In what seems to be becoming a weekly tradition, visitors to the Parque Nacional got some free street theatre once again this afternoon. I'm not sure what it was about, if anything, but the play with dance and mirrors made for some dramatic scenes.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Nicolas Maduro Turns Green

Pumping nearly-free Venezuelan gasoline. (Photo: Flickr)
Believe it or not: The leader of major oil exporter, who spends billions of dollars every year to pay people to burn gasoline, is denouncing oil production for destroying the planet.
Barbarous, savage and anti-human?
Preparing for a fracking job. (Photo; Wikipedia)

But Venezuelan Pres. Nicolas Maduro doesn't mean all kinds of oil production, of course. Maduro has denounced hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking', which he calls "barbarous, savage and anti-human."

Fracking does have its special dangers, including causing small earthquakes, consuming lots of water and maybe polluting groundwater. But its greatest danger is that, like all hydrocarbon production, it pumps carbon into the atmosphere, driving global warming. According to data from The Guardian, in 2010 Venezuela produced 5.8 tons of carbon per person per year, compared to 1.6 for Colombians and 2.3 for Brazilians.

“What stands out is the squandering of petrol at the cheapest price in the world – two cents of a dollar per liter – which does not even cover production costs,” Juan Carlos Sánchez, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told IPS News in 2012.

Since then, the price of gasoline in Venezuelan has plummeted as inflation there has soared, making the country even more wasteful.

Big, new, gas guzzlers in Venezuela. (Photo: Flickr)
Add to that galloping deforestation, and Venezuela manages to rival even some rich, developed nations, such as Switzerland, in its pollution.

But all this irresponsibility and selfishness hasn't stopped Venezuelan leaders from denouncing other nations behavior.

"We have no doubt that (failure of anti-climate change agreements) is due to the irresponsible attitude and lack of political will of the most powerful nations," late Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez said at a climate conference in 2010. (Nor has their hypocrisy stopped leftists from non-judgmentally quoting Venezuela's leaders as they spout off.)

Chavez was right about other nations' irresponsibility, of course, but that doesn't change his own hypocrisy.

Maduro's real complaint is not the fracking is destroying the planet, but that it is destroying Venezuela's economy. Fracking has enabled the United States to become a huge petroleum producer, pushing world oil prices below the level at which Venezuela can meet its expenses - including the cost of giving away gasoline.

All of which reminds me of a time while I was living in Caracas when, as a journalist, I was covering some sort of chavista revolutionary conference held in a central Bogotá high-rise. As I was looking over the event's program, which included speeches denouncing genetically modified foods - which haven't harmed anybody, as far as I know - I looked out a window at hillside slums, where towers of black smoke showed where garbage was burning - pumping carcinogenic toxics into the air. But nobody cared.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Well, Some of It's Art

In conjunction with the ArtBo exposition going on in the Corferias convention center, various galleries in La Candelaria are putting on their own shows. This is from the Misol gallery on the corner of Carrera 3 and Calle 12D.

Is it art? Some of it. Other's just plain obscenity, it seems to me. But the gallery's worth a walk thru, and while you're at it you can also visit several other local galleries. You'll have a much lower-key art experience than in Corferias.

A match by any other name.
Why is this horse in the living room?
Suburban nude.
Why am I standing here naked?
Two ladies in a kitchen. Transcendental!
An artist gave a lecture this afternoon about the nature of consciousness.
Artsy types.
A study in copulation.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours