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Public transport is an essential element for the daily functioning of cities. But, what would happen if in addition to serving as an element of mobility, these systems are used to reduce the impact on the environment and the social gap? Two Colombian cities give examples that this is possible.

In the lecture presented by the expert in urban transport and Senior Urban Designer at Sustrans , Martin Podevyn, it was made an overview about the mobility challenges that our cities must solve. In an increasingly populated and urbanized planet, mobilizing people has become a priority issue in urban planning and design. Since the beginning of the industrial era, cities started to increase their population at a rate that was unprecedented, requiring new modes of transport such as trams, trolleybuses and metropolitan railways.

However, while public transport became massive and complex systems, the car was becoming more accessible to the middle classes, which had a considerable impact on the planning of the cities, in the sense of having to build adequate infrastructure to support the growing automotive traffic. Thus, highways and avenues began to emerge in the urban landscape, becoming both physical and socioeconomic barriers.

Image 1. Caracas, Venezuela. Central Highway divides the middle-class neighbourhood of La Urbina (on the left) and the slums of Petare (on the right).

These edges are visible especially in developing countries. According to a report by the Periodica Polytechnica Transportation Engineering, in Latin America the rate of ownership of cars per 1000 inhabitants grows significantly faster than in developed countries and it is predicted that by 2030, several countries in this region will reach similar numbers to those of European countries (Roque and Masoumi, 2015). But, at the same time, according to data from the Thematic study prepared for Global Report on Human Settlements in 2013, private car travel accounts for less than 30% of daily trips in the main Latin American cities. Likewise, public transport in cities such as Bogota and Mexico D.F. represents about half of the daily trips, which are made mainly by people with medium and low incomes. (Jiron, 2013).

Image 2. Top: Percentage of users by mode of transport in Mexico City and Bogota. Below: Mode of transport according to income level in Bogota.

These statistics make it clear that continuing to prioritize private vehicular traffic will only contribute to increasing the socioeconomic gap in a region that is considered the most unequal in the world, according to the latest GINI coefficient measurements. Also, it is other example that shows that more space for cars does not serve as a satisfactory solution to traffic jams problems.

“Adding highway lanes to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.”

Mumford, 1955.

To mitigate this effect of the car-dependency, several cities in Latin America have undertaken strategies to achieve a more sustainable and inclusive mobility. Below, some successful cases carried out in the two main Colombian cities:

Bogota: Towards a culture of the bicycle

Since the end of the 20th century, the Colombian capital has been working on the use of bicycles as a mode of transport for everyday use. With the implementation of its BRT system, called “TransMilenio“, Bogota undertook a process of renewal of its road infrastructure, not only to adapt the lanes for the articulated buses, but also to provide wider and safer spaces for the circulation of cyclists. As a result, today Bogota has the most extensive network of bike paths in all Latin America, with 392 km of exclusive lanes for this means of transport. Likewise, bicycle trips represent around 5% of the total daily trips in Bogota, which makes it the second city with the best indicator only behind Rosario, Argentina.

Image 3. Percentage of bicycle journeys and kilometers of cycle routes in Latin America.
Image 4. Cycle route in Bogota

In addition to providing bicycle lanes, Bogota has also implemented projects that did not have a precedent in Colombia, such as bicycle lanes, public bicycle systems and the “Car Free Day“. The latter, carried out one or more times during the year, is a day in which all private automotive traffic, with certain exceptions, is prohibited from circulating (Felin, 2017). This has the purpose of encouraging the use of public transport and bicycle trips, being one of the few cities in the world that implement this initiative in 100% of its urban area.

Image 5. Car Free Day in Bogota.
A city connected for everybody: the case of Medellin

The second largest city in Colombia has managed to reinvent itself. In the mid-90s and after having gone through the most difficult time in its history, Medellin began a process of physical and social transformation. The first step was the construction of the Metro, which connects the entire central area of the city with nearby municipalities. However, there were still separate neighbourhoods located on the hills, where the most segregated classes live and where the most serious social problems were concentrated. As extending the metro lines to that area was technically unfeasible, and bus services were not efficient due to the complicated road layout, the most appropriate solution was to install a network of integrated cable cars to the existing metro lines, guaranteeing an adequate inter-modal connection.

Image 6. Integrated Transport System of Medellin.
Image 7. Carry bicycles is allowed inside Metro trains in Medellin.

Currently, Medellin owns five cable car lines (called “Metrocable”) and they mobilize more than 30,000 passengers per day. The results have been satisfactory. On the one hand, mountain communities that were formerly segregated from conventional transportation can now use the entire network with the same ticket, making it easier for residents to get closer to the services and facilities of the central area of Medellin. On the other hand, the Metrocable system has also allowed people from other areas of the city as well as visitors and tourists to easily visit those neighbourhoods that were inaccessible in the past. As stated in a report by the French Institute of Andean Studies: “The urban cable car in Medellin has been a success (in terms of transport, city and society), as part of a concerted policy of comprehensive improvement of low-income areas.” (Leibler and Brand, 2012).

Image 8. Metrocable in Medellin.


Sources of images:


Felin, B. (2017) Car-free Day Continues to Steer Bogotá Away from Cars. In the City Fix.  (

Focus Economics (2017). Latin America: The Most Unequal Region in the World. (

Jiron, P. (2013). Sustainable Urban Mobility in Latin America and the Caribbean. (

Leibler, L. and Brand, P. (2012). Mobility and social inclusion : the experience of the Medellin periphery and the first metrocable. Bulletin de l’Institut français d’études andines. (

Roque, D. and Masoumi, H. (2015). An Analysis of Car Ownership in Latin American Cities: a Perspective for Future Research. Periodica Polytechnica Transportation Engineering, Center for Technology and Society, Technische Universität Berlin.

Zapata, D.,  Stanley, J.  and  Stanley, J. (2014). Reducing Social Exclusion in Highly Disadvantaged Districts in Medellín, Colombia, through the Provision of a Cable-Car. Institute of Transport and Logistic Studies, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Sydney. (




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