Two Wheels Good: The Answer to Santiago's Problems

The cloud of toxic putridity that lurks over Santiago while seeping into your clothes, hair and lungs, is as much a part of the city as La Moneda or stray dogs. The damage done by the twin evils of congestion and pollution is a problem facing all major cities in the world today yet is routinely poorly-addressed. In Santiago, the answer seems clear: the good old two wheels.

Photo courtesy sxc.hu
Photo courtesy sxc.hu

Santiago is a city that desperately needs to reduce its traffic. The thick smog caused by the eternal jams that clog its arteries and damage the health of all is universally detested. Yet when you speak to people the same old excuses are trotted out: public transport is unreliable, dangerous and slow while walking is not a viable option all the time.

Photo courtesy <a href="http://dreamsonwheels.dk/">dreams on wheels</a>
Photo courtesy dreams on wheels

The answer for all cities that suffer such problems is so blindingly obvious as to be regularly overlooked. In a relatively flat city such as Santiago which boasts a pleasant climate, the failure to implement any meaningful cycling system of paths and lanes that ensures safety is a shameful neglect.

The annual Día Mundial Sin Autos (Global Car-Free Day) aims to encourage people to leave the car keys at home and take up pedal power as part of the Festival Internacional de Bicicultura 2010 (September 9 - November 22), the highlight of which saw hundreds of cyclists roll up to Plaza de Armas on September 22 in a celebration of all things two-wheeled. Sponsored by Greenpeace, the day culminated in a mass bike ride through Parque Forestal and Museo Bellas Artes, and the launch party of the Sueños Sobre Ruedas (Dreams on Wheels) exhibition.

There is a focus on Denmark as a progressive cycling nation, where one in three commuters pedals to work and the government promotes cycling through extensive development and high taxes on cars and petrol. The exhibition also provides excellent accounts in Spanish and English of the culture of cycling in Denmark and how other cities could adopt such a system.

Photo courtesy <a href="http://dreamsonwheels.dk/">dreams on wheels</a>
Photo courtesy dreams on wheels

Naturally, it takes time to change the mindset of those who view driving as much a part of life as eating or breathing but Denmark is proof that such a dream is attainable.

The environmental, economical and health benefits of cycling are clear. The disadvantages are that it can be dangerous but only because too many people are driving in the first place. The future for cities slowly suffocating on their own filth is in the example of Copenhagen and is finally being adopted by a number of other European cities. It's time Santiago and other heavily-polluted cities followed suit.

As I stepped inspired and enlightened out of the museum, a bus belched its exhaust fumes into my face.

Find out more about cycling in Sanitago and Chile, as well as further events to promote this most civilised and advanced of pursuits, at bicicultura.cl.

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