Obviously time abroad is going to be a learning experience and hopefully not just for me but for the people I come into contact with and maybe, just maybe, for both the countries as a whole. That is why I have been compiling this list of the things that Bogotá (Colombia) and Atlanta, or any other city, (US) can learn from each other. These are the things that exist in one place, lack in the other and in some cases represent business opportunities for adventurous parties in either place.
1. I mentioned before that have been playing soccer here at a place called Futbol Cinco, an old building converted to accommodate two floors of mini indoor soccer fields. This type of sports arena scaled-down to fit indoors is the perfect compliment to the LA Fitnesses that are packed every night. Sure, the YMCA is open and the local Rec Center but putting it in a sexy glass building and making people pay for it is what could make this sort of thing cool.
2. I do not usually like to write about food but there are, of course, some differences between Colombian cuisine and typical American fare. But, to be honest, the most obvious difference are foods. Maybe it’s because it touches so many of the senses or because you encounter it everyday. In these culinary differences are a few gems from one which could easily find a home among the staples of the other. Ironically, the first thing that I think Colombia could contribute is the crepe. I had always associated the crepe with fruit, sweet, breakfast, dessert, but that does not have to be the case. One of the most prominent chain of restaurants here is called Crepes & Waffles. They serve all types of crepes that serve as lunch and dinner plates, including a hindu chicken curry crepe.
Regardless of whether or not this is the way crepes are everywhere, the fact stands that these type of places are hard to come by in Atlanta and much of the US. Why? The food is good, it’s fast, you can make it healthier with tons of vegetables and probably add a whole grain crepe. Look for it coming soon.
3. I think this goes without saying but I am going to say it. One of the best (and possibly worst) parts of traveling to a place like this is the street food. It’s cheap, impulsive and sometimes delicious (sometimes it can make you sick). Of course, in the US people are walking down the street too much and that makes street food difficult. But you can’t even find this type of thing at Piedmont Park on a crowded day. Outside (and inside) of the parks here there are mobile ice cream vendors and people grilling. I guess we probably have rules about selling, but rules don’t always have to outlaw something they could just define the acceptable characteristics of the action to fit into society. Anyway, here they have this amazing corn that they grill and sell. The kernels are huge and come right off the cob. Every time you eat it, you end up with this perfectly picked cob at the end.
4. Let me continue this food rant by saying American burritos should be everywhere. It’s almost like a crepe, except it’s the biggest crepe ever and you can eat it with your hands. In San Francisco, the Mission burrito is a tourist attraction. In part because of tradition but I can’t help but think that it’s also due to some other factors beyond the taste. The complexity on the inside is perfectly contrasted by the simplicity outside.
5. The next things that these countries can learn from each other is about bicycles. Granted, the US could learn a lot about bikes from any number of countries but the way that Colombia has laid down cycling infrastructure sets an example that a lot of other places could follow. As Penalosa likes to say, they’ve created things for which where were not words. The Ciclovia has been going on for nearly 30 years and is only mildly impressive until you realize that it happens once a week, more if there are holidays. During this event streets (at least in one direction) are closed (some completely) from 7AM through 2PM. This brings out joggers and skaters, but especially, cyclists to cruise the city free of traffic, and the regular (extreme) pollution. They can sail up and down the city’s main thoroughfares and go all the way from north to south, east to west.
Even when Ciclovia is not going on, people can take the ciclorutas and cross the autopistas with the help of ciclopuentes. These dedicated bike lanes line the sidewalks and medians of some of the busiest avenues for cars. This is probably less than pleasant during rush hour, but I took a bit of the network from a friend’s house last week, via rollerblade. We covered about 50 blocks in about an hour and a half, stopping to chill out in a park along the way and waiting for traffic at some busy intersections. All in all it was a very enjoyable journey. It was a great way to see some of this investment by the city and also to get a feel for what its use is like. It seemed to me that it was much like a highway for bikes and skaters. It was a bit late at night but people were not out for leisurely riding. It had the feel of a commute, and indeed our trip was utilitarian. But as they line the main roads I realized that these ciclorutas must function much like the main roads themselves during the week, and in that way they really do make the bicycle more legitimate as a mode of transportation for real trips.
All that said, there is one thing that Bogotá Bikers can learn, though not necessarily from Americans or Atlantans. They need lights. Nobody has them and they desperately need them. In a local bike shop I saw less then 5 total on the shelves and it was not because they were top sellers. 2 of the lights were heavy duty with huge batteries for mountain biking I assume. However, bikers here do often wear a reflective vest, but drivers sometimes don’t use lights.
6. Bus Rapid Transit. I’m talking right at Atlanta and MARTA here. Use the buses you already have (which are too large) and put them on isolated routes that operate like trains, but with greater frequency then the trains you already have. Buy smaller buses, like El Rey on Buford highway, to operate your feeder lines. In fact Buford highway could be a great place to start. Get a median in there, with stations, some pedestrian bridges. It would look like Cr. 30/Autopista Norte here. It could work, look into it.