BOGOTA, Colombia In a program that's set to spread to other countries, millions of Colombians hiked, biked, skated or took buses to work during a car-free day yesterday, leaving the streets of this capital city eerily devoid of traffic jams.
It was the third straight year cars have been banned with only buses and taxis permitted for the Day Without Cars in this capital city of 7 million. The goal is to promote alternative transportation and reduce smog. Violators faced $25 fines.
Bogota's Mayor Antanas Mockus, left, and Dutch Ambassador Teunis Kamper pedal in Bogota, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2002. Millions of residents of the capital hiked, biked, skated or used buses and taxis Thursday during a "day without cars" that left the normally congested avenues of Bogota eerily devoid of traffic jams. It was the third straight year cars have been banned for one day in this capital of 7 million. For the first time, two other Colombian cities, Cali and Valledupar, joined the event, which is aimed at promoting alternative transportation and cutting down smog. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
The turnout was large, despite gray clouds that dumped occasional rain showers on Bogota.
"The rain hasn't stopped people from participating," said Bogot Mayor Antanas Mockus, who pedaled over to the residence of Dutch Ambassador Teunis Kamper for a joint ride.
"I thought I was at Venice Beach or something," said an American oil executive, who normally is chauffeured to work with a bodyguard but who chose to walk yesterday.
"It's a good opportunity to take away stress and lower air pollution," said businessman Carlos Arturo Plaza as he rode a two-seat bicycle with his wife.
For the first time, two other Colombian cities, Cali and Valledupar, joined the event.
Municipal authorities from other countries came to Bogota to see the event and were enthusiastic. "These people are generating a revolutionary change, and this is crossing borders," said Enrique Riera, the mayor of Asuncin, Paraguay.
Rifle-toting soldiers part of security to ward off stepped-up rebel attacks in past weeks watched cyclists and people on inline skates weave past.
The day without cars is part of an improvement campaign that began in Bogota in the mid-1990s. It has seen the construction of 118 miles of bicycle paths, the most of any Latin American city, according to Mockus, the city's mayor.
Parks and sports centers also have bloomed throughout the city; uneven, pitted sidewalks have been replaced by broad, smooth sidewalks; rush-hour restrictions have dramatically cut traffic; and new restaurants and upscale shopping districts have cropped up.
Copyright 2002 Associated Press