Bicycles in Mexico City

The Los Angeles Times reports this story:

For years Mexican cyclists who have braved the airborne ozone, lead and other poisons - and the danger of being squashed in traffic - have yearned for the kind of accommodation of bicycles that has become common in many European cities.  The bike lane, called La Ciclopista, is due to expand this year to 50 miles.

Who in their right mind, you might wonder, would want to venture out on a bicycle here? This is a city where 2.7 million private cars wage mortal combat with thousands of taxis, trailer trucks and, worst of all, minibuses that weave in and out of traffic with no fixed stops. On three days out of five, the air registers unsafe levels of ozone.

Tens of thousands of people here commute to work or school on bikes, or pedal entire shifts delivering pizzas, milk, tacos, dry cleaning and mail. While some, as in the United States, are sports- or ecology-minded members of the middle class, many are recent immigrants to the city from Mexican villages where bicycles are common transport for the poor. A common sight here is newspaper deliverymen pedaling bikes, each with a towering stack of papers rising from the rear wheel rack.

Until last month, the bikers had been losing ground to the automobile. "Today at least we are recovering part of the street and gaining some respect," said Leon Hamui, a 47-year-old construction executive who cycles on the job and lobbied the mayor for bike lanes.

He added: "These lanes are not enough by themselves. Until they become part of a citywide network, we cannot civilize the culture of the car."

We will now look at some data from the 2003 TGI Mexico study.  We will focus on the survey portion that was conducted in Mexico City.  This is a survey of 4,068 persons in Mexico City between the ages of 12 to 64 years old interviewed during 2003.  The following chart shows the types of transportation mode used by these people over the past seven days.  Traveling by bicycle ranks in sixth place, behind five other motorised modes of transportation.  

(Source: TGI Mexico)

The next chart shows the frequency of weekly bicycle use within those who used the bicycle to go to work/school.  The majority of the users are frequent users (5 or more times per week).

(Source: TGI Mexico)

In the next chart, we show the incidences by socio-economic level and age/sex groups.  The usage decreases by socio-economic level and age.  There is a strange pattern by age among men, and this is not an anomalous quirk because this pattern seems to recur over time as if there had been some generational shifts in behavior.

(Source: TGI Mexico)

Persuading the chilangos (citiziens of Mexico City) to use bicycles has the primary effect of reducing the problems of traffic congestion.  But there is also a secondary effect of improving the general health of the population. From The Guardian:

Usually associated with the developed world, obesity is now an epidemic sweeping much of Latin America, with Mexico among the worst affected, along with Chile and Peru.  A recently released national survey by the health ministry classified 28% of adult Mexican women as obese, with another 36% overweight. Just under 19% of Mexican men are obese and another 41% overweight. The figures confirm the shock sprung two years ago by a groundbreaking study revealing a 158% increase in obesity over a decade, prompting disbelief among many scientists.  Not any more. Now the consensus is that Mexico's combination of junk food, rapid urbanisation and genetic traits mean obesity rates have overtaken Europe's fattest country, Britain, where around 22% of adults are obese. More worryingly it is catching up with the US where adult obesity tops 30%.

Experts say the health problems of traditional Mexican fare have been vastly exacerbated by the invasion of relatively inexpensive industrially produced food. American fast food restaurants became fixtures in the 1990s, and today it is often easier to find a bag of crisps than a banana even in the remotest jungle village.  Household expenditure on fruit and vegetables fell by over a quarter between 1986 and 1998, while over a third more was spent on soft drinks.  Urbanisation has only made things worse. Those who can afford cars would rather wait in valet-parking queues outside restaurants than leave their vehicle a block away and walk. The majority, obliged to take public transport, often demand that buses drop them off at their own street corner.  

Meanwhile, slouching in front of the telly now dominates leisure time in part because the open spaces where local football teams once played have disappeared under urban sprawl. Only 13% of Mexicans say they play sport.  Whatever the root causes, nutritionists warn that Mexico is settling into the established trend where obesity is primarily associated with the least fortunate. "That is the tendency," says a government nutritionist, Simon Barquera. "That is where we are headed.

(posted by Roland Soong on 2/07/2004)

(Return to Zona Latina's Home Page)