PUBLICATIONS 2008


'Talking about Mobility and Urbanism' is one of our social initiatives, which is based on opinion-forming articles written by Carlos A. Gonzalez G, director of M&U Movilidad y Urbanismo, and published in several prestigious printed media in Colombia. This initiative is part of our commitment to a real Social and Environmental Responsibility in our firm. In particular, this series of articles aims to contribute to a better judgment and enhance citizen participation in these topics. Similarly, other academic articles and technical reports are included in this section for the interest of a more specialized audience.

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ROAD PRICING IN COLOMBIAN CITIES?

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 31 dic. 2011 9:47 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 17 mar. 2012 8:08 ]

Carlos A. González G.


Dinero Magazine
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia. 9th December 2008


Opinion Article


Original title: '¿Peaje urbano en ciudades colombianas?''


In moments when the future of the mobility of the three main Colombian cities, since the implementation of several public transport systems (metro, light rail transit and systems based on high performance buses with segregated lane such as “TransMilenio”, “Metroplús” and “MIO”), is being discussed, with more passion than lucidity; all we needed was that the complicated political debate incorporated a new element to the mobility scene: the road pricing(1) in urban areas; disconcerting in this way the already confused citizen.

The current lack of criterion of both, politicians and technicians, is such that in this moment in the city of Bogotá they do not know whether to implement first a metro line, a regional train or to extend the “TransMilenio” network (and much less how the first two systems would be financed since the town hall has promised not to increase the local taxes). On the other hand, in the city of Medellin they have decided, with nearly twenty years of delay, to implement the “Metroplús”, after realizing the nonsense of having implemented a metro/light rail transit (a strange hybrid which flies over the heads of all of the citizens in the centre of the city) which has to compete with thousands of scrap buses which operate without any regulation. Finally, in the city of Cali they are still trying to finish the implementation of the “MIO” after an embarrassing process of construction full of delays and over costs and of a polemic tender process of the collecting system, both the result of improvisation.

In this, not to say more, picturesque scene, the frivolity with which some of both “gurus” and “non-specialists” of the field of mobility, have tried to introduce the urban road pricing as a tool of transport demand regulation oriented to the reduction of the congestion in Colombian cities causes curiosity, and even more when they naively or maliciously argue that this tool has been successful in some of the main European cities.

In general terms, the road pricing in urban areas, commonly called congestion charge, the theoretical base of which was formulated in the fifties and its first implementation was in the seventies in Singapore; is an extra monetary charge (which is commonly invested in public transport) charged to the drivers of private vehicles for the negatives effects, more congestion and pollution amongst others, that they generate for the rest of the citizens. The success of this kind of restrictive measures that penalize the generalized use of the private vehicle, commonly is supported with the simultaneous implementation of a determined plan to favour the public transport. Thus, the congestion charge is not an “innovation” and much less the “panacea” to resolve all the mobility problems in the city, but it is one element more of an integrated transport policy oriented towards a more sustainable mobility.

The case of the implementation of the congestion charge in the city centre of London in 2003 has been one of the most notorious in recent years, since it has caused a significant reduction of the congestion (about 15%) in the regulated area, and this is the recurrent example for those who argue the need to implement this regulation tool in the main Colombian cities. Nevertheless, they often avoid to clarify, because of ignorance or because of their own interest, that the city of London has an extended and efficient network of metro and regional train since many years ago, which is not only able to absorb the users which decide to leave the car at home as response to the implementation of the congestion charge, but that it indeed is a competitive alternative of public transport in both aspects, price and travel time. This offer of public transport was strengthened with a great improvement plan of the bus service in the city centre (besides routes for pedestrians and cyclists) simultaneously to the implementation of the congestion charge.

Therefore, one of the in-depth public debates to implement a congestion charge in the city, is to establish if this city already has an efficient public transport system which acts as a competitive alternative to the use of the private vehicle, then we can advance in the implementation of one of the most effective tools nowadays in the regulation of the congestion. But before beginning this debate, in Colombia we still have to cover a long way which requires an active participation of the government by means of its local administrations in the planning, management and regulation of the public transport which includes the business re-organization of this sector which is still based on the informality and the miserable “war of the cent”(2); a resizing of the offer of the public transport, which in some cities implies a reduction of the number of buses of about 30%; a renovation of the current fleet of vehicles (buses); a re-distribution and optimization of the bus routes; the implementation of integrated fares and a strong investment in public transport systems both in railway systems and in other ones of greater cost-efficiency relation based on high performance buses called  “Bus Rapid Transit” –BRT- in the technical literature.

As citizens it is crucial to assume a critical attitude towards this kind of questions in order to confront, on the one hand, the Manichean political discourse with which some local administrations try to distract our attention from the really important discussions with the aim of hiding the current chaos with which the building of the future of the mobility in our cities is being carried out and their irresponsible management of the public funds, and on the other hand, to confront the merchants of technology that wrongly continue thinking that we remain here caught in the time when we were giving gold in exchange for mirrors and cheap imitation jewellery.

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This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled '¿Peaje urbano en ciudades colombianas?'. The opinions expressed in this article are solely responsibility of the author and they do not compromise the point of view of any related institution. (1) 'Road pricing' is the payment of a charge to use the private vehicle in some roads or areas of the city. (2) 'War of the cent' originally known in Spanish as "Guerra del Centavo".

+ Link to this article on the website of Dinero Magazine

PEDESTRIAN BRIDGES AND OTHER URBAN FALLACIES

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 31 dic. 2011 9:40 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.

Carlos A. González G.


Dinero Magazine
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia. 2nd September 2008


Opinion Article


Original title: 'Puentes peatonales y otras falacias urbanas'


In spite of that the collective imaginary  leads us to think  that the pedestrians are the great  beneficiaries of a “well-intended” policy of massive construction of pedestrian bridges in the Colombian cities, a brief slip of common sense would allow us to understand that far from favouring this condition of urban walkers, actually it is a matter of the physical materialization of an idea which was socially accepted decades ago, which identifies as second degree citizens those who travel on foot in opposition to those who drive a private vehicle.

In fact, with the massive introduction of pedestrian bridges, the ones that walk do not have the same right to cross the road as the ones that drive a private vehicle, in spite of the affirmation of them being the big beneficiaries, with which the supposed reason for the investment is invalidated.

This kind of urban fallacies are very often resolved making the right questions: Isn’t it more comfortable for the pedestrian to use a pedestrian crossing with a traffic light than to oblige him to walk five times this distance using a pedestrian bridge to cross? Why the one that travels comfortably seated has the priority to advance instead of the one that walks? If it is done to benefit the pedestrian, why are the automobiles the beneficiaries? The answers seem obvious. Nevertheless, the complaints on behalf of the neighbours demanding the construction of a pedestrian bridge for their neighbourhood is more common than the request to implant a pedestrian crossing with a traffic light, and this is only one aspect of the many that reveal the state of general anaesthesia in which all of us citizens, the ones that travel on foot and the ones that travel by car, have been immersed in.

In this way, disguised as a benevolent crusade for the accessibility and the mobility of pedestrians, the construction of this kind of infrastructures actually tries to favour the motorized mobility of the most frantic drivers, removing from their way the annoying pedestrians that represent an “unbearable” delay of 20-30 seconds at any corner of our congested Latin American cities.

The high economic investment that the construction of pedestrian bridges require, many times turns them into absurd monuments to the waste, when few months later, the neighbours realize about the associated disadvantages: the real or perceived lack of safety, the inaccessibility for the disabled, the children and the elderly, and an unnecessary increase of the distance travelled; its disuse makes it evident. Finally, because of an irrational logic, some choose to risk their life again crossing the road in an obvious fight against the implacable traffic of automobiles and of those buses that continue “the war of the cent”, dispute that only in the city of Bogotá during the year 2007, meant the death of about 250 pedestrians, not to mention the wounded, in a daily display of unconsciousness, imprudence and intolerance.

There are numerous cases of European cities that have opted for a greater democratisation of the use of the road space, where the pedestrian crossing with a traffic light (programmed or by request of the pedestrian) for important urban roads is the norm and not the exception. In this way, the Avenue Diagonal in Barcelona, just to mention one case, with 5 lanes for each direction and a traffic of about 90 000 vehicles every day, along its route of 12 kilometres from one corner of the city to the other, there is not a single pedestrian bridge, which is something that at least should arouse our curiosity. This approach of the mobility is difficult to imagine for most of the citizens, some because they did not have the opportunity to travel to such distant surroundings and others because even having done so, they have not noticed the evident; but it is not difficult to imagine for our politicians and local technicians who very often visit these cities as experts on the subject and even so they insist on building expensive pedestrian bridges that finally nobody uses.

Even though no big city in the world functions perfectly and the inherent differences to urban environments of countries with different levels of development are undeniable, it is totally appropriate to formulate the need of a change of philosophy in the planning of the mobility of our cities towards more contemporary perspectives, reconsidering the noxious absolute role of the private vehicle and the lack of equity that it implies in the use of the urban road space.

In the main Colombian cities where the trips on foot and on bicycle represent a 17% of the total daily trips and the ones on public transport represent a 57% of the total, and taking into account that the users of the public transport are pedestrians before and after making use of it, it is fundamental to understand that promoting the efficient flow of automobiles is as important as favouring the non motorized mobility: pedestrians, not only because this kind of mobility participates in a high percentage of the daily trips (close to 74%), but because it is the one that best contributes to make our cities a more liveable and humane surrounding.

Lets dust our common sense , which even though in some aspects has been for many years the less common of the senses, it is the instrument that will help us to belie urban fallacies such as this one and to evaluate the capability of the local administrations to give coherent answers to our needs of mobility.

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This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'Puentes peatonales y otras falacias urbanas'. The opinions expressed in this article are solely responsibility of the author and they do not compromise the point of view of any related institution.

+ Link to this article on the website of Dinero Magazine

METRO: IF MEDELLIN COULD, CAN DO BOGOTA TOO...?

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 31 dic. 2011 9:23 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 31 dic. 2011 9:44 ]

Carlos A. González G.

Dinero Magazine
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia. 12th May 2008

Opinion Article


Original title: 'Metro: ¿Si Medellín pudo Bogotá también...?'


The irresponsible management of the local administration of Medellín of that time, that got involved with the metro even knowing that they didn’t have the money to pay for it and therefore all the Colombians would end up paying for it, the waste of money in cost overrun and fiddling with contracts, and the picturesque vision of a multimillion dollar metro flying over roads invaded with scrap buses, are all aspects that , without a thought, the ruling class of Bogotá will be able to imitate in great detail as our large history proves that it is not a problem of lack of experience. 

I don’t formulate a categorical refusal to a project which is clearly necessary for a city such as Bogotá where there are nearly seven million citizens, but I formulate a frontal criticism that  decisions that imply a multimillion investment such as this one continue being made by a politician during the election campaign who, by what it seems has the occurrence of a metro while, whistling under the shower, he rubs his head with shampoo; and not by the exhaustive and continuous work of a team of experts on the subject linked to the local administration. 

The spatial coverage of TransMilenio(1) is still minimal and in addition, it doesn’t have a rate integration, two big reasons to continue investing on its development. Nevertheless, there are the ones who already dare to consider that this is "an  insufficient system for the city", when this system still doesn’t exist, and what is worse, they plan to embark the capital upon the adventure of a metro because of a political whim, moving away from the effort that is being done for the last years of a more responsible management of the public expenses. 

The transport problem in Bogotá, in particular the one with the public transport, will not be resolved with one single metro line, which is the most the city can aspire to have in the next fifty years; in the same way as it has not been resolved with only a few TransMilenio lines, since this resembles in nothing what an integrated transport system should be in the future, the high coverage of which should be able to benefit the whole city. 

And how about if this time we finish first what we are doing well, and only then do we study what needs to be done next? It is more serious to bet on the development of TransMilenio on a larger scale, in coverage and in services, and with the course of time the evolution of the system and the rigorous follow-up of the behaviour of the demand, will clearly indicate us what corridor to reinforce strategically with a system of greater capacity such as the metro. 

A determined bet on the democratisation of the road space of the city and a clear policy for a more sustainable mobility, will put Bogotá again under the spotlights of the international scene as happened the time of the initiative of the day without car. Then the ministers of the ones called “friendly countries” will visit us, which is something the Creole politicians like very much, but this time not to see how the distribution of the contracts will be done, but to follow the example of how to plan the transport in a responsible way in Latin American cities, the same way as in the seventies Curitiba (Brazil) became a world paradigm. 

The zeal for popularity of a mayor, the electoral opportunism of a president, and so much regionalism and manipulative partisanship, have been and continue being the culture medium so that the improvisation, inseparable friend of corruption, ends up spoiling the longing of millions of Colombians of making their cities a better place. 

A piece of information for everybody, there is only one metro in the world which is completely self-financed with the collection of the sale of tickets: the metro of Tangamandapio, “…beautiful village with red cloud twilights …”, Yes, the one of Chespirito(2). 

So it is better to be honest and understand that a city that wants a metro first has to know, amongst other things, not only with what money to build it and to pay its financing, but also where the money to assume part of the costs of operation impossible to cover with the sale of tickets of heavy transport systems such as the metro, will come from. And, above all, because it is a lie that the rabbits come out from the magician’s hat, to know what this will mean for the pockets of the taxpayers from Bogotá. 

Therefore, to those who cry out with irresponsible fanaticism “If Medellín could, Bogotá can too!”, I agree with them: If Medellín could do it so bad, Bogotá, if we don’t watch out, is able to do it worse.

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This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'Metro:¿Si Medellin pudo Bogotá también...?'. The opinions expressed in this article are solely responsibility of the author and they do not compromise the point of view of any related institution. (1) 'TransMilenio' is the Bus Rapid Transit system of the city of Bogotá, Colombia. (2) 'Chespirito' is a television series for children audience widely known in Latin America

+ Link to this article on the website of Dinero Magazine

THE NON SOCIAL APPROACH OF THE SUPPLY OF SOCIAL HOUSING IN COLOMBIA

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 23 nov. 2011 15:32 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 15:55 ]


Carlos A. González G.


Semana Magazine
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia. 17th April 2008


Opinion Article


Original title: 'La vivienda del des-interés social'.

A few decades have past since the first social housing projects appeared on the urban scene of our cities, and these same decades reveal the inability of the local administrations to propose alternative models of housing supply for families with lower income, which are able to overcome the still coarse and generalized idea of “giving the poor a roof” as though it were only a roof and nothing else.

Some might ask themselves about what negative aspect of such a kind housing policy I am referring to, when precisely now in Colombia there is more and more development of social housing projects and there is an effort to reduce its shortage, a worry which is not surprising in view of the historical short-sightedness that our society has decided to perpetuate towards subjects such as equality, segregation and social and spatial exclusion.

There are not few studies that have shown how in different capitals of Latin America the social housing projects are being developed in areas which are more and more in the outskirts of the city  guided by the direction that the each time less invisible hand of the market  points at and for which the existence of a cheap land in the outskirts of the city , with a poor accessibility and in occasions with doubtful geotechnical characteristics, is synonymous of an opportunity for the development of social housing projects.

Hardly a few minutes after the politician on duty cuts the band during the inauguration act, the degradation spiral of the neighbourhood makes its (still for many short-sighted) inexplicable appearance.

The picturesque neighbourhood of homogeneous houses soon turns into a monster of a thousand heads with the multiple improvements and enlargements  which make physically evident the lack of a space in agreement with the size of the families and the total absence of an urban control, which happens while the scarce and badly equipped public spaces turn into territories exclusive of a group of characters with a particular interest in smoking our Mother-Earth while they train to be delinquents, and in this way insecurity arrives at the neighbourhood and with it the perception of the neighbours of their house as a secure place and the street and the park as the far west where only the strongest survives.

The problems with transport, be it because of the lack of it or because of its informality, don’t take long to appear and this added to the fact that it is difficult to escape the will of the mathematical Third World model where the social stratification level of the neighbour that I can find at a walking distance of about thirty minutes will always be smaller or the same than my own; make the new residents start to sense their marginalized condition. Finally, the owners that have had the option to improve their family income, end up leaving the neighbourhood and in this way one looses the human capital that could contribute to hold back the intensification of the spiral.

How many times hasn’t the politician on duty hesitated to say: “That’s the way the poor are: you give them a roof and they end up again living in bad conditions”,  words to which many of the short-sighted assent with their heads, without even putting on their glasses which finally would allow them to see that one thing is “to give the poor a roof” and another very different is to give them a worthy housing which materializes their condition of citizens and that encourages their effective integration into the dynamics of the city.

It is time to explore alternative models for a social housing policy with a true interest on the social aspect, where we strengthen new developments but this time inside the urban perimeter, through urban renovation projects by re-densification of the existent, or, once and for all, through the development of the land that the speculators have preferred to keep inactive for so many years waiting for a friend to become town councillor.

Thus, this situation marked by a severe socio-spatial segregation of the social housing projects, that accelerates more and more its degradation spiral, makes it necessary to bet on the promotion of the diversity, not only with regard to the use of the land and the urban activities providing dynamism to the local economy of the neighbourhood, but also diversity regarding the social context, by the development of urban projects which provide a combined offer of free market housing and social housing.

Let us put on our glasses and assume a critical attitude towards the local planning teams that continue gestating that which without fear of exaggerating, we can sadly call the ghettos of the social housing without a real social interest.

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This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'La vivienda del desinterés social'. The opinions expressed in this article are solely responsibility of the author and they do not compromise the point of view of any related institution.

+ Link to this article on the website of Semana Magazine

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