One of the things we especially loved about Guadalajara was the Via RecreActiva, an event that began back in 2004 and that occurs every Sunday.
Via RecreActiva is a Car-Free Sunday event where the city blocks off over 65 km of city streets to motor traffic for six hours (8 a.m.-2 p.m.). Over 200,000 (!!) people come out to take over the streets with mostly bicycles but you will also see pedestrians, dog-walkers, runners, rollerbladers and skateboarders enjoying the wide boulevards. Hundreds of volunteers, some paid staff and a handful of civil servants come out to make sure everything runs smoothly. Artists, performers and exercise enthusiasts fill the parks and plazas en-route, providing people access to things like free dance or exercise classes, nutritional counseling or entertainment (check out the hula-hooping!). Via RecreActiva even provides bicycles on loan if you don’t have or can’t afford a bicycle of your own (one I.D. gives you access to two bicycles for the day) as well as maps of the route and guided bicycle tours of the city. We had a blast cycling alongside thousands of others every Sunday. It’s just absolutely fantastic to see people of all ages out exercising on streets normally congested with bumper to bumper traffic and it proves that there are many people eager to create newer and healthier ways to travel in the city! Check out the video and the photos we captured of Via RecreActiva below:
Scenes from Via RecreActiva:
Of course, neither Via RecreActiva nor the many other group bicycle rides that take place in the city on a daily basis, would be happening without the diligent and persistent activism of many bicycle and pedestrian organizations in Guadalajara, like Cuidad Para Todos, GDL en Bici and COM:PLOT. Citizen activists along with members of the latter groups advocate for a more socially just and livable Guadalajara. From guerrilla creation of bicycle lanes when city planners don’t do it for them to installations of bicicleta blancas (white bicycles) on street poles to visually memorialize the death of a cyclist (27 cyclists have died so far in 2012 alone), they are fighting the age-old story of short-sighted city planners and an unhealthy car-enabled culture. While on tour-walks around the city, they even stop to highlight the most grievous errors in city planning and infrastructure, using spray-paint and stencils to highlight things like lack of access ramps for people with disabilities on the sidewalks and handing out ‘citizen tickets’ to drivers blocking sidewalks or otherwise violating the space of non-motorists.
Kai & I stopped by to meet some of the GDL en Bici activists when we visited the infamously friendly Casa Ciclista (Cycling House) in Guadalajara. We had already met one activist on the day we cycled in to Guadalajara. Remember that hellish ride in dwindling daylight and pouring rain? Well, Maqui happened to see us cycling and she took the time to stop and make sure we had the Casa Ciclista phone number so we could call when we got to the city(what a sweetie!). She wasn’t the only one who was fabulous – we met Jorge, Bernardo and Marina, all of them spectacularly welcoming and helpful. In fact, they offer a place to stay to cycle tourists passing through so be sure to contact them if you need a few days in the city and you want to hang out with really awesome people.
Probably one of the most serendipitous and wonderful things that happened to us while in Guadalajara was our random reunion with cycle tourists Margit and James. We met them, very briefly, back in December of 2011 as we were cycling down the Pacific Coast highway in California. They had pulled in to a state campsite late in the evening and were exhausted from a long day’s ride (over 100 miles!) so we didn’t get to chat much & we didn’t really even get a good look at each other in the dark. They left the next morning before we woke and all we knew about them was that they were on a short training ride in prep for a trip to South America in 2012. One Sunday, while cycling the Via RecreActiva route, we pulled off to use a restaurant’s bathroom and noticed two touring bicycles leaned up against the building. It didn’t take us long to find them in the crowd and we spent a good hour talking before we realized they were the same couple we had already met on the California coast months ago! Another two hours and an ice-cream/fruit break later and we were still on the streets talking (see what happens when you haven’t had a face-to-face conversation with other touring cyclists for months on end?!). What great luck to have randomly run in to them in a city of millions!