In recent decades, the use of private vehicles has grown dramatically in the Greater Metropolitan Area of Costa Rica (GAM). Currently, more than a third of daily trips are made by car or motorcycle, and this is projected to expand, as Costa Rica’s motorisation rate is growing at an average of 5% per year. In parallel, the use of public transport is decreasing in comparison, due to both the real and perceived poor quality of the service. As a result of this dynamic, transport has become the main sector responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases, contributing more than 40% of the country’s total emissions. The transport situation in the GAM and Costa Rica are representative of other metropolitan areas and countries throughout Latin America, the global region with the highest percentage of GHG emissions coming from the transport sector, approximately 36% of the total in 2014.
However, for some years now, the region has been pushing for policies and interventions that promote non-motorised mobility, in particular, cycling, as an alternative, zero-emission, affordable, and healthy means of transport. At the local level, in the municipalities of Montes de Oca and Curridabat (both part of GAM), both government authorities and civil society have been promoting sustainable mobility through temporary bike lanes, participatory workshops on the use of public space, improvements in pedestrian infrastructure, and street calming measures. In 2018, the two municipalities presented a project, The promotion and development of urban cycling in Montes de Oca and Curridabat, to the EUROCLIMA+ program in order to obtain technical and financial support to build a network of approximately 30km of cycle routes. The project’s objective is to position urban cycling as a prominent mobility alternative for a wide variety of users and types of trips in the two municipalities; and is accompanied by awareness-raising and capacity-building workshops for the use of bicycles in urban areas.
The project officially started at the end of 2019 and was soon faced with the challenges of adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest limitations was the inability to carry out in-person diagnostic workshops and training sessions with civil society. To overcome this, the project’s leaders made a concerted effort to approach and work with key stakeholders, such as women’s groups, cycling groups, and the private sector.
The pandemic also opened windows of opportunity. As in many urban regions in the world, government authorities in Costa Rica were quickly faced with the need to adapt to new transport conditions and responded by re-allocating public space to promote the use of bicycles as an alternative to public transport, due to the possible risk of contagion on the latter. This facilitated permission from the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation to convert a temporary bicycle lane into a permanent one on a road under national jurisdiction; authorisation that in other conditions would have been difficult to obtain.
In October 2020, the first phase of the project was completed, with the inauguration of 4 kilometers of bicycle lanes. In technical terms, the execution has required site-specific adaptation of the design – to the natural conditions, urban morphology, and needs of the citizens of both municipalities. In terms of governance, the delegation of project management responsibilities to an independent non-profit, who coordinates all stakeholders including the various levels of government, civil society, and international cooperation organisations, has been essential. The non-profit also has more flexibility and can work faster than local governments under the existing legal and administrative framework in the country. Overall, the actual transformation of the space has been the best tool to promote urban cycling, demand a more equitable distribution of public space, and demonstrate the positive impact of cycling in urban environments.
Two major factors have led to the success of the project thus far. First, the will, leadership and conviction of the stakeholders involved in the process have enabled a proactive and positive attitude to avoid bottlenecks and take advantage of the opportunities that have arisen during the process. Second, the existence of a vision of sustainable mobility that is manifested in long-range plans and policies of both municipalities has been essential.
Through these long-range sustainable mobility plans, this project plans to go beyond the current interventions and duration of the cooperation, with a network expansion plan that integrates both municipalities. For the future, there are also plans for the systematisation of a work methodology, capacity-building activities, and the use of different tools to support participation and decision-making processes.
EUROCLIMA+ is a programme funded by the European Union to promote the environmentally sustainable and climate-resilient development in 18 countries in Latin America, particularly for the benefit of the most vulnerable populations. The Programme is implemented jointly by seven agencies: Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), French Development Agency (AFD), Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Expertise France (EF), International and Ibero-American Foundation for Administration and Public Policies (FIIAPP), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and ONU Medio Ambiente.
SLOCAT supports the EUROCLIMA + program by organizing targeted outreach and capacity building activities for regional policy makers. In addition, SLOCAT helps facilitate spaces for dialogue in order to increase the focus on urban mobility in national climate debates, provides regional support to increase urban mobility ambition in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) of the Paris Agreement, highlights regional mobility work in global climate and transport activities, and conducts regional-level analysis of problems and opportunities for sustainable urban mobility.