What can we learn from Ecuador?

Shared space” has a different meaning in the Galapagos

When we look overseas for cycling cites to emulate, we’re generally thinking of the separated bike lanes of Copenhagen and Amsterdam, or maybe Lyon with its innovative public bike scheme. But Ecuador? They just do bananas and giant tortoises there don’t they?

So it was a bit of a surprise when I traveled to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, to find that even here cycling is being catered for.

Our trip started in Quito where the main barrier to cycling is altitude. At 2800 metres, you only get 60% of the oxygen that you have at sea level. In fact I never acclimatised sufficiently to get on a bike in Quito, although the city has a good network of cycle routes, and a public bike scheme, BiciQuito.

Sign for BiciQuito public bike scheme
Sign for BiciQuito public bike scheme
BiciQuito bike stand
BiciQuito bike stand
Strong encouragement for Quito cyclists to take the lane
Strong encouragement for Quito cyclists to take the lane

There’s also a ciclovia event, the Ciclopaseo, where a 30km route is closed to motor traffic every Sunday from 8am to 2pm. Unfortunately our schedule didn’t have us in Quito on a Sunday, so I missed out on this.

Protected cycle lane, Puerto Ayora

The real surprise was  on the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz, where a protected cycle lane runs along the seafront of the main town, Puerto Ayora. A two lane road has been turned into a one way road, with a two way protected cycle lane on the sea side. In this case, the two way cycle lane works because there aren’t many intersections, although “wrong way” cyclists have to be careful when they rejoin traffic at the ends of the route.

This had me thinking. If a small town (population 12000) in the Galapagos can do protected cycle lanes, why is it so difficult to do them in Wellington? The Puerto Ayora bike path can’t have been easy – transport costs and a tourist inflated economy make building infrastructure in the Galapagos expensive. Retailers on the landward side of the road must have been concerned about losing car borne customers.

So when the excuse for not doing cycle facilities is “Wellington isn’t Copenhagen” bear in mind that Quito and Puerto Ayora aren’t Copenhagen either, but they are getting on with providing a cycling network.

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