Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara (Part 0)

Posted by Alexis in News on October 6th, 2011 – 1 Comment

Last month I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at this year’s Towards Carfree Cities conference in Guadalajara. I really enjoyed the conference and visiting Guadalajara, and I was particularly impressed with the success of the organizers (Ciudad Para Todos) with setting up a fully bilingual conference and accommodating guests with no or limited Spanish. It was also interesting to see how it differed from my experience in York.

I’m planning to write a series of posts about the conference, of which this is Part 0: what the experience was like. In future entries, I’ll get to what the conference content was like.

I speak Spanish well enough to get by, which meant that I got to stay with a host family in Zapopan rather than being accommodated in the conference hotel (as a speaker, my lodging was covered). It was a great opportunity to make a connection and practice my language skills, and I was treated very kindly by the family that I stayed with. Because it was relatively far away from the conference at ITESO, it was also an opportunity for me to practice taking transit in a foreign city, which is one of my favorite things to do when I go on vacation.

My exrperience of the bus system in Guadalajara is that it’s really strong on frequency and pretty good on coverage, adequate to poor on facilities, and very bad at getting information to the user. There is a bus map you can buy or obtain, which my hosts gave me, but otherwise I would have had no way to know which buses stop where, beceause there are no numbers on the signs. There are no schedules given on the map or on the stops. And woe betide you if you get off at the wrong spot! The drivers I spoke to were helpful when I missed my stop, but I still ended up walking down a dirt road on the outside of a big interchange, looking for a stop for the right bus. (Luckily, I found one.)

The price per ride seemed low to me, but there are no transfers, so you pay every time you get on: 6 or 10 pesos (45-75 cents), so it adds up. Cash only, but they do give change for bills up to 50 pesos, a real blessing for me since at first I had no change. The facilities for some stops were nice: a shelter with a few seats, just like here. Others were just a sign, often on a post in cracked concrete or dirt. The buses were generally clean and functional but (except for the fancier TUR buses, which had air conditioning and a TV screen) very basic: plastic seats, open windows, and sometimes screechy operation.

I never had trouble getting a bus, and many times I saw three or four come by within ten minutes — the kind of frequency I can only dream of with Trimet! But the residents I talked to told me that although buses generally come along pretty regularly during the rush hour and daytime, they aren’t very reliable, so you never know when one just won’t show up. And if you don’t stick out your hand, they won’t stop for you, so there’s no running to catch the bus coming to the stop when you’re on the other side of the street. (I tried and failed.) Sometimes they don’t anyway — if there’s another bus stopped, they just go around.

My hosts drove me to the conference area a few times as well, using much the same route that the bus took. It really wasn’t much faster, which surprised me, but the traffic congestion was terrible so progress was slow either way, and I saw lots of terrifying driving. It was easy to see why Ciudad Para Todos is so interested in alternate solutions to just adding more cars and road space.

When I arrived at the conference building, I discovered that they were offering simultaneous translation for the presentations! The introductory keynote was in English, so I didn’t make use of the translation that evening, but many attendees were from the university or from the public — one way that this conference differed a lot from 2010  — and quite a few did. While there were some hiccups with the translation, and I ended up relying more on my Spanish comprehension, I know it was really useful for the people who didn’t speak any Spanish to have access to the parts of the conference that were in Spanish. It also allowed for smoother question-and-answer interaction because questions could be asked and answered in the speakers’ preferred languages.

In the next part, I’ll talk about some themes from the introductory keynotes that are relevant to current issues in Portland.

  1. Timo says:

    Thanks for writing up these notes Alexis! I look forward to hearing in detail about how the conference went. (and if you got to go on any bike-culture rides while you were there…)

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