Route Guides on the Via
A couple of weeks ago, some of us at cicLAvia visited the Via RecreActiva, a network of 40 miles of “Car-Free Sunday” streets which interconnect several cities of Jalisco, Mexico. Gil Penalosa, the Executive Director of 8-80 Cities and also the person responsible for the mid-90′s expansion of Bogotá’s Ciclovia, invited planners of car-free streets events from around the Americas to Guadalajara for an educational and inspirational weekend of workshops and tours. Expect to see several short posts over the next few weeks describing the Via Study Tour.
This Sunday will mark the 290th consecutive Via RecreActiva. Guadalajara began the program on September 12, 2004. The route along the Via stretches over 40 miles and through 5 municipalities. The cities of Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque, Tlajomulco, Tonolá, and Zapopan celebrate open streets every Sunday. Hundreds of thousands of participants join one another outside of their homes for fun, healthy, safe activity in the largest public space we have, the streets.
Something that I found amazing about the Via, is the degree of organization and the institutionalization of the program. In later posts, I will go into greater detail about the communications, traffic control, and management of personnel and space. In order to execute so well, the municipalities must conduct their own work, as well as coordinate with their neighbors. With this first entry, I will describe the Route Guides that are stationed along the Via. I will only be discussing the Route Guides of Guadalajara, so remember that in this region of Jalisco there are still 4 other cities doing similar things and that it all meshes incredibly well.
Guadalajara employs 220 Route Guides. The photograph above shows the Mayor of Guadalajara (wearing an orange hat) talking with a Route Guide. Each mile of the Via is served by a team of 10 Route Guides and 1 Route Lead. The Route Lead takes on most of the responsibility for coordinating a team of guides. The entire team is responsible for maintaining safety along the route. They are assisted by traffic control volunteers, communications personnel, police, and emergency medical technicians. Leads and guides ride up and down the route providing assistance to participants. They are first responders to situations requiring first aid or emergency assistance. They are equipped with tools and mechanical knowledge so they can help repair damaged bicycles. They help locate missing children or provide directions to people who lose their way.
For many of the guides, this is their first job. Some of them are college students and the weekend hours complement their busy school schedule. For all of them, this job provides serious benefits: physical activity, community involvement, leadership experience, and a sense of self-worth through helping others. While participating at the Via, I stopped to ask one of the guides about his job. He told me that he has worked as a guide for more than 4 years and that he loves his job. He also told me that he has been using a bicycle as his only means of transportation. (A bit of side info: In Guadalajara, the roads are extremely hostile to cyclists. They are narrow, congested, and poorly maintained. More than 50 cyclists die while riding these streets every year, that’s one per week. For comparison, there were 8 cyclist fatalities in Los Angeles in 2008.)
For many of the people who work at the Via, this will be a temporary job. They will eventually move on to other professions. Their lives will forever be enhanced by having had this experience. By working at the Via, they play a meaningful role in the lives of their community members. They use their body as a means of transportation, recreation and vocation. Through this, they inspire their parents, grandparents, siblings and one day, their children. They continue the tradition of thinking of the streets as a place for people. The generation of young people who are raised experiencing all the benefits of the ciclovia is quite possibly the greatest outcome of the program.