TRUE TRAVEL TALES: Cruising the Buenos Aires bike scene
This dispersal is a big part of Kalwill's plan. "For me, my work is like seeds. Thanks to the Internet, what I do is in part a result of things happening in other countries. And other things will come from what we're doing here." He is an avid follower of sites like Streetsblog in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., as well as the San Francisco Critical Mass site. He regularly posts bike happenings from around the world on his own websites.
La vida en bici's tastemaking ability has also caught the attention of city officials. Paula Bisiau, director of the Palermo neighborhood government, tapped the group to create a "Bicifriendly plaza" featuring a massive mural inspired by Luna de Enfrenta, a book of Jorge Luis Borges poems. In La vida en bici's typical cartoonish style, the design will revolve around the question "What would it be like to ride a bike to the moon?"
Bisiau has high hopes for promoting bicicultura projects in her neighborhood. "We hope that these spaces will be starting points to develop more ideas to help foment the use of bicycles in the rest of the city of Buenos Aires," she wrote to the Guardian. "I think that this change is possible because it's positive and healthy for everyone. I'm sure that in four more years, we're going to see many more bicycles in circulation throughout the whole city."
But it's not all line drawings and bike music. In the run-up to the July 9 mayoral election, representatives from the office of the city's current mayor, Mauricio Macri, as well as the two opposition candidates called Kalwill to discuss bike policy in the city.
He chatted with them about what'd he seen in the city — a bit reluctantly. Kalwill is loathe to get involved in politics, wary of the limitations they can impose on cultural movements. But soon afterward the two challengers reversed their previously held viewpoints that the city's burgeoning bike lane network was a waste of street acreage and resources. Days before the election, everyone could agree that bikes were key to sustainable mobility. "It's like bicycles won in this election," reflects Kalwill, who maintains a strictly nonpartisan stance. Between the city's cultural activists and politicians, he says, "the dialogue is happening."
At a recent rally, Macri announced plans to build 100 new stations for the city's Mejor en Bici program. Kalwill was pleased to learn of the plan but does have one bone to pick: at the moment all the free bikes are yellow. He thinks adding different colors to the mix would make the system more attractive to potential bike riders and would "reflect the diversity of the users."
RUNWAY TO CHANGE
I didn't bring a bike to the June Masa Critica Buenos Aires ride, and it hurt — I wanted to ride it bad. But my flight back to the States was scheduled to depart in three hours so I stood beneath the massive obelisk that soars from a plaza in the middle of Buenos Aires' 14-lane 9 de Julio Avenue, the widest street in the world, saying goodbye to my new friends on their two wheels.
But Buenos Aires wasn't done with me yet — a volcano explosion in the Andes delayed my flight home for three days. As luck would have it, I neatly missed the Biciconga post-Masa bike runway show, where 30 bikers, fresh from the ride, rolled down a makeshift red carpet on the front porch of an organic food co-op to live music by the Mahatma Dandys, a local folk-rock ensemble.
Busso, a driving force behind the show, hoped the spectacle would be a moment that helped change the way Buenos Aires looks at the way it uses bikes. "The more people who use the bicycle, the better. The change will not come from the government, it will come from these groups."
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