The Pedestrian League (Liga Peatonal), an organization that groups mobility activists across Latin America, held its third congress in the Merced neighborhood of Mexico City between May 4 and 8, 2016.
Activists, entrepreneurs, government officials and city planners from across Mexico and Latin America attended the congress and shared their ideas on how to make cities safer and more hospitable to pedestrians.
Many planners and architects criticized characteristics of the urban environments of Mexican cities that are dangerous and unwelcoming for pedestrians, and suggested alternatives.
Members of the “anti-pedestrian bridges” panel discussed the ways that pedestrian bridges are overused in Mexican cities and can have a negative impact on pedestrians.
Roberto Remes, an urbanist who advocates for the rights of pedestrians, criticized some pedestrian bridges for “multiplying distances” for pedestrians and for being inaccessible for the elderly and disabled.
“Pedestrian bridges might make sense for highways with continuous traffic flow,” said Remes. “But on streets that are controlled by streetlights, there is no reason for there to be pedestrian bridges.”
The Mexican Declaration of the Rights of Pedestrians criticizes pedestrian bridges and tunnels for prioritizing vehicular traffic at the expense of pedestrians, and states that “pedestrians should not be judged for avoiding bridges and crossing at street level.”
“When there’s an area where pedestrians present a problem, the authorities want to get rid of the pedestrians,” said Fabian García Estrada, a member of the Ciudad de Pie Collective in Xalapa, Veracruz. “They build a bridge to get rid of the pedestrians, and if a pedestrian gets hit by a car, the authorities can blame the pedestrian for not using the bridge.”
Many pedestrian activists think that along with urban planning and policy, changes in culture and the behavior of drivers are part of the solution to the pedestrian problem. In the city of La Paz, Baja California Sur, a pedestrian activist donned a mask and cape and dubbed himself Dante Caminante, a superhero who advocates for pedestrians.
“When drivers don’t respect transit laws that protect pedestrians, and the government doesn’t do anything about it, that threatens pedestrians’ right to the city,” he said at the Congress of the Pedestrian League. “We are sick and tired of people breaking traffic laws and the government not enforcing them.”
Dante Caminante issues “citizen fines” against drivers who violate traffic laws, and publishes pictures of the violations on social networks to try to shame the government into stepping up enforcement.
Arturo Hernández, a veteran television news anchor, founded the Supercívicos group and began a campaign of using theatrical tactics and public shaming to punish citizens who show bad civil behavior around Mexico City, including breaking traffic laws.
“Something I’ve noticed is that a lot of people justify bad civic behavior by saying that it’s just a tiny action, that it doesn’t have an important effect,” said Hernández. “That’s what we need to change about our culture. People need to see that the culture of ignoring small infractions can have serious consequences for all of us.”