Traffic-free streets in Quito, Ecuador

Worldwide Cycling Atlas team member, Cass Gilbert, documents his first-hand experience of Ecuador’s Ciclopaseo – where the capital’s centre is closed to motorized traffic every Sunday.

Every Sunday the streets in Quito are closed to motorized traffic

Every Sunday the streets in Quito are closed to motorized traffic

We’ve reported in the past on Bogota’s Ciclovía, the traffic-free event that has served as a blueprint for city rides all over Latin America. Quito is one such South America metropolis that has used the Ciclovía model to inspiring effect.

The route passes through the centre of El Ejido park, on its way to the historic quarter

The route passes through the centre of El Ejido park, on its way to the historic quarter

At every stop light, a shoal of cyclists gather

At every stop light, a shoal of cyclists gathers

The capital’s Ciclopaseo is organised by local bike advocates ciclóPolis, and aims to promote urban cycling and sustainable transportation. Each Sunday, 25km of roads are closed to motorized traffic, allowing participants to follow a cordoned route that wends its way peacefully through the heart of its otherwise frenetic centre and historic quarter. Starting at the old airport, it runs from the north to the south of this long and slender city, squeezed in as it is between mountains and volcanoes.

Climbing up through the steep streets of the historic quarter

Climbing up through the steep streets of the historic quarter

Ciclopaseo is very much a family-friendly event

Ciclopaseo is very much a family-friendly event

Founded in 2003 with a single ride and 3,000 attendees, Ciclopaseo has progressively grown each year, and became a weekly event by 2009. In terms of bringing cycling into the public conscience, this regularity helps create a lasting impression on all those living in the city, without massive capital investment.

This is not to say that cycling would otherwise be relegated to Sunday riding. Thanks to long founded grassroots activism, Quito is now interwoven with dedicated bike paths, often segregated from motorized traffic. Since 2012, the capital has also run a popular bikeshare program, BiciQ, which Quiteños can use for free for the first 45 minutes.

One of 425 bikes that makes up Quito's bikeshare program

One of 425 bikes that makes up Quito’s bikeshare program

Reclaiming the streets helps usher in an equally important purpose of the initiative: community building. In parks along the route, impromptu theatrical performances abound, along with bands and general socializing. Water points are set up en route, and food stands are omnipresent, including local dishes such as toasted corn, roasted pork and grilled plantanes, to cups of chopped watermelon and pineapple. This serves to underline another aim of the event – healthy living.

Impromptu performances line the route

Impromptu performances line the route

As do juice stands

As do juice stands

The mood is upbeat, and all walks of life enjoy the ride – mountain bikers, road riders, veteran cyclists, families, and especially kids learning to cycle. And for those who may have neglected to maintain their bikes, there’s marquees along the way, where barebones repairers will check your tyre pressure, and adjust your brakes or gears for a small fee. Bikes are as varied as their owners – old singlespeeds, spangly new 29er mountain bikes, tandems, child trailers and more, creating a rich tapestry of cycling life within one event.

Sundays are a great chance to learn to ride a bike

Sundays are a great chance to learn to ride a bike

Not a car in sight!

Not a car in sight!

One of the main bike repairers that springs up at Ciclopaseo. This one rents tandems too

One of the main bike repairers that springs up at Ciclopaseo. This one rents tandems too

Truly, a day for all the family

Truly, a day for all the family

All images copyright Cass Gilbert.