Activists use art to save lives on the streets of Bogota, Columbia

June 25, 2013
Pedestrian Symbol Sign

View this sign here

 

crosswalks for lifeIn 2003, the city hall of Santa Fe’ de Bogota together with Road Prevention Fund started a campaign called “Each star is a killed pedestrian” to pay a tribute to the 1500 pedestrians killed in road accidents in the preceding five years. The campaign appealed to the conscience of drivers and promoted safe driving behavior that reduces dangers to people on foot.

This year, the statistics show that the plight of pedestrians remains more or less unchanged. In 2012, 296 pedestrians died on the streets of Bogotá, Colombia. This time around, urban activists have decided to campaign for pedestrian safety by taking cues from “tactical urbanism.” Activists including planning students, architects, and designers make the city their canvas to portray everything that is hurting the pedestrianism of the city and in the process, get problems fixed.

Early innovators in Bogotá

Although Bogotá was rife with crime and run by drug lords in the 90s, it underwent a makeover. In the mid-1990s, Mayor Antanas Mockus introduced imaginative measures to improve urban life, like hiring 400 mimes to make fun of drivers who did not follow traffic rules. This led to a 50% reduction in traffic fatalities.

Mockus’s successor, Enrique Peñalosa, introduced a successful bus rapid transit program. Cars could not park on sidewalks in Bogotá’s busiest areas, and Bogotá was where Ciclovía began. A 120-kilometer network of the city’s largest roadways, the Ciclovía was closed to regular traffic from 7 am to 2 pm on Sundays, holidays, and some evenings. During this time, cyclists, walkers, runners, and roller skaters could use the area. On average, 700,000 of them do so, on Sundays and holidays.

Bogotá today

The rise in pedestrian deaths in Bogotá today signals that times are very different now. As Germán Sarmiento, a Bogotá activist says, “The city has suffered terribly from subsequent bad governments. There is terrible infrastructure for pedestrians (no crosswalks, no pedestrian lights, no speed controls and no respect for STOP signs or red lights), and a culture that literally prioritizes the way of cars in every intersection. If you are walking in Bogotá you have to be alert at all times. Pedestrians are astonished when a car lets them walk first.”

Tactical urbanism campaigns

Activists homourously honor a big pothole on the street

“His Majesty the Crater.” Image by Germán Sarmiento

This situation led to Sarmiento and other activists to let art do the talking. For instance, they painted the area around a huge crater with colorful blocks and a bright crosswalk. Sarmiento writes, “The whole purpose of our act was to ironically and humorously honor and celebrate the life of this enormous pothole. Days after the initiative took place, most of the potholes in the area were fixed.”

“Crosswalks for Life” was another successful pedestrian safety campaign. The activists painted colorful crosswalks where pedestrians had died or been injured in crashes. This campaign was covered extensively by the media. A government agency has voiced interest in scaling up this campaign.

Crosswalks for Life for Pedestrian Safety

Crosswalks for Life. Image by Germán Sarmiento.

The activists aim to increase citizen engagement with such ideas. Sarmiento writes, “The legacy of Mockus and Peñalosa is very important because it lets us know that better is possible. We are creating awareness with regards not only to pedestrian rights, but also activating citizen engagement that pressures government institutions to act on matters that are their responsibility.”

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Category: News & New Products, Pedestrian safety

About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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