Wipe that image of noisy, car-crazy Mexican cities from your mind’s eye. Every Sunday, Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, closes its arterial streets to cars and hands them over to bikes, skateboards, pushchairs, wheelchairs and any other form of non-motorised forward propulsion.
This hugely successful green initiative, called the ‘Via Recreativa’ has grown in size since its inception over a decade ago to become the largest ‘cyclovia’ in Mexico with up to 180,000 weekly participants.
While many modern cities sponsor car-free events, few are as radical or well-organized as Guadalajara’s which closes 65km of its streets to traffic between 8am and 2pm every Sunday and, in the process, injects the city with a totally different vibe. What began as a small local initiative in 2004 attracting a few thousand people has since mushroomed into a huge weekly fiesta characterized by its creativity and joie de vivre.
Aside from the obvious benefits of clean air, reduced noise and enhanced social interaction, the Via Recreativa offers plenty of other sideshows. From its central operations centre in Parque de Revolución, aspiring cyclists can borrow bikes and helmets for free and partake in a guided bike tour of Guadalajara’s main sights. Other gratis attractions include art workshops, alfresco chess games, giant aerobics classes and dance instruction in the park’s pop-up cultural pavilion. Live music – from bands to buskers – entertains passers-by along the route and a special kid’s activity area is set up on a broad Ramblas-style walkway on Avenida Chapultepec.
Much of the success of the Via Recreativa is down to enthusiastic support from city authorities and emergency services. Keeping the peace, an army of around 200 volunteers, many of them students, marshal the roads and protect the exercising masses from anyone mad enough to get their car out of the garage.
Enjoying such high levels of participation, Guadalajara’s Via Recreativa has spawned no small number of imitators. Mexico City’s similarly themed ‘Muévete en Bici’ was initiated in 2007 and is now almost as large.