San Juan’s Ciclovias Are a Bright Spot in Caribbean Micromobility
By: Joel Epstein
Paved nirvana. That is what a childhood friend would have called them. I am talking about the protected bike lanes or ciclovias that San Juan has created for bike and scooter riders in Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan), Puerto Rico’s Spanish Colonial gem. Neighboring Condado also has some bike infrastructure but it lacks the protective barriers that would encourage more riders to ditch their car or Uber for the healthier, carbon neutral option.
As I wrote in a recent piece on San Juan’s Tren Urbano, ¨With its buses and trains, públicos (colectivos or dollar vans) and growing bike and scooter culture solving the first, last mile problem, the next step for San Juan should be making it a more liveable city by banning private cars from Viejo San Juan. Indeed, that is a proposal that has been out there for a dozen or so years. The colonial heart of the Commonwealth will be even more dazzling once City Hall takes that critical step.
Since walking or pedaling to the station or bus stop in often steamy San Juan can leave one soaked in sweat, Skootel’s recent launch of biciPOP, its shared ebike program offers San Juan riders a faster first, last mile option. Skootel’s ebikes compete for space with its own scooters as well as those of several other scooter providers.
biciPOP, with support from Banco Popular, is an app-based ebike system that rents for a dollar plus 30 cents per minute. The program’s attractive ebikes which max out at 15 miles per hour, use a rechargeable battery that carry a charge of over 120 miles.
As a longtime CitiBike rider in New York City, I experience daily the reality of a robust first, last mile transportation solution. In December, Citibike NYC surpassed 30 million rides for 2022 which is roughly 50 percent higher ridership than 2019.
Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, Viejo San Juan already boasts good protected bike lanes. Now all it needs is an outreach campaign to encourage locals to use the lanes, as it seems many feel the ciclovias are just for tourists. On a beautiful recent December day I practically had the lanes to myself as I biked along the coast looking out on some of Puerto Rico’s outstanding Spanish Colonial architecture.
It will take some effort to change the car-centric culture in Puerto Rico where it seems almost everyone aspires to drive a car in spite of the excellent, and air conditioned, train and widely weather beaten roads.
How do you ID a drunk driver in Puerto Rico? They are the ones driving in a straight line while everyone else is swerving back and forth to avoid the potholes.
I heard this joke over pizza and beer at Downtown Cupey. It was part of my crash course on life in Puerto Rico from two former classmates from La Universidad de Mayaguez.
There is of course a lot to learn, but not everything requires a local guide.
When I saw the protected bike lanes in Viejo San Juan I was in my element. I have never met a protected bike lane I didn’t like and the ones I found in San Juan didn’t disappoint.
Felicitaciones to Skootel, the first micro-mobility as a service company in Puerto Rico and the only one to operate a fleet of shared e-scooters in the Caribbean!
Yours in transit,
Joel Epstein is a New Yorker and an advocate for public transit, livable cities and public space.
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