The majority of my time working with IMPLAN Los Cabos has been spent planning a network of bicycle infrastructure for the city of Cabo San Lucas. This blog entry outlines the general strategy that I took to accomplish this task and examines some of the main challenges and opportunities related to the planning and implementation of cycling infrastructure in Mexico.
The planning process followed the general steps of bicycle infrastructure planning, as outlined in a resourceful publication of the Mexican arm of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP Mexico) known as Ciclociudades . Adapted to the local context, this process can be divided into four main stages:
- Diagnostic: The first step of the process is a diagnostic of the current situation of the city of Cabo San Lucas. Painting an accurate picture of the current situation from different angles is crucial in understanding the reality in which the project is being developed. Of course, mobility is a crucial aspect of the analysis as it reflects people’s travel preferences, which are based on people’s origins, destinations and mode of travel. Origins are usually homes and destinations are locations where people work, study, recreate and shop. Based on this information and on other relevant considerations (timeline, resources, political and social acceptability) a study area is identified.
- Route analysis and design options: Next, an analysis of land uses, demographics, street characteristics, and key destinations as variables is performed for the study area. These factors are used to compare different route options with the most appropriate design for each case.
- Route selection: Based on this comparative analysis, the best routes are selected to create a bicycle infrastructure network. The overall architecture of the network influences the route selection. This means that each route is chosen not on an individual basis, but rather in relation to the overall “fit” with the network. The basic criteria that should define cycling infrastructure, as mentioned in the Ciclociudades publications, are directness, safety, coherence, attractiveness and practicality.
- Design options selection: Lastly, design options for each section of the network are proposed based on the above mentioned criteria.
The general approach taken in this study was to try to only use segregated bicycle lanes (Image 1) when on-site conditions required their use, and to try to use the concept of a “shared street”, also known as bicycle boulevards (Image 2), whenever possible. This general strategy ensures the best use of the limited financial resources, given segregated bicycle lanes are more expensive to build than shared streets. The shared street concept implies traffic calming and design measures that create conditions in which cyclists have the priority over vehicles and can ride safely with minimal infrastructure investment.
The result of this work produced a network of approximately 17 km (Image 3), 4 of which are dedicated bicycle lanes and 13 of which are shared streets. The network covers the downtown area, the resort area (beaches, hotels, bars) and key destinations (schools, universities, convention centre, shopping centre, etc.).
Challenges and opportunities
Challenges and opportunities are closely related, given that in every challenge lies an opportunity.
Political support is an essential element to the realization of the project. Fortunately, for Los Cabos, the current mayor seems supportive of cycling as a more sustainable and affordable transportation mode, and has given support (at least verbally) to its realization.
As one would expect, pooling revealed a very high degree of support for the implementation of bicycle infrastructure in Los Cabos: 99% of 209 people answered they supported the implementation of bicycle infrastructure in the city, and 90% of 164 people answered they would use the cycling infrastructure network. This speaks to the latent demand for more transportation options and for safer ways to go around on bicycles.
Lack of bicycle culture
In Mexico, as in many places around the world, there is no bicycle culture. This is something one sees in countries with high usage of bicycles for functional transportation. In and around Los Cabos, there are very few cyclists on the roads (most of them are competitive cyclists), which results in car drivers not being accustomed to sharing the streets with cyclists, and not knowing how to behave respectfully towards them.
Somewhat related to this lack of bicycle culture is the ignorance of professionals (mostly engineers) on appropriate street design for cyclists (and pedestrians), which results in dangerous road design, particularly at intersections.
In addition, car ownership is still very much an expression of social status. For most people, bicycles are second rank vehicles.
All these aspects can be addressed through education, social marketing and advertising campaigns. The opportunity is particularly interesting amongst youth, for whom bicycles mean freedom and liberty of movement. Youth are most likely to adopt cycling as a mode of transportation. This being said, campaigns directed at individuals, taxis, and public transport drivers are needed to create an appropriate culture of respect towards cyclists. This doesn’t preclude the need of campaigns aimed at cyclists to teach proper urban cycling behavior in relation to other road users, including pedestrians.
Obesity and cycling
The fact that Mexico is second to the US in general obesity and first in child obesity gives cycling an incredible appeal as far as public health is concerned. Someone who decides to walk, cycle and take public transport (which includes a part of walking or cycling) increases their activity level, which is in direct correlation with obesity issues and its related health problems.
The positive impact of cycling on health should play a major role in marketing and educational campaigns given the direct and personal impact on mobility choices.
Cost of transport and income
In Los Cabos, the motorization rate of 3.25 persons/car is still below those of Canada or the U.S., but it follows the national tendency of a low-density, sprawling urban development, which encourages car use. Vehicle ownership is correlated with household income: as people get richer, they own more vehicles. Inversely, low income impedes vehicle ownership. In Los Cabos, using public transport implies a significant cost relative to what lower paying jobs may provide. Providing a safe way to use a bicycle as a way to get to work or to school is therefore more beneficial to lower-income groups, which increases social equity, keeping in mind that there is still much more money spent on car infrastructure than on walking or cycling infrastructure.
My overall experience on this project has been very interesting professionally, and taught me a great deal about the way things are done in Los Cabos. The question of whether the project is a success or not doesn’t ultimately depend on the planning process, although it is an essential part of the whole story. The success depends largely on the level of municipal and key stakeholders’ commitment, and on the appropriation of the infrastructure by the population. This 17km network has been planned to address mobility needs of the population, and to add to the touristic potential of Los Cabos. Ultimately, I will deem the project successful when I see children, mothers, workers and tourists using the infrastructure.