Santiago’s growing green transport movement has gained further momentum as bar and restaurant owners in the capital are offering support to cyclists in the form of hard currency.
For the month of September, newly reopened café La Bicicleta in the borough of Ñuñoa is offering 10 percent off for customers who arrive on bikes. The café becomes the fourth establishment in the capital with such special offers.
Both Niguiri Sushi in Las Condes and Café El Converso in Providencia offer 15 percent discounts to bikers. The trend began three years ago when Nicolás Barra, bike lover and owner of the pizzeria Caramagnola Bikes and Beers in the inner city neighborhood of Providencia, began offering 10 percent discounts on final bills for cyclists.
“We’ve done well,” Barra said. “We also have a bike workshop – people in the area have come to know us as a place for cyclists.”
That sense of community is often what makes cyclists so passionate about the activity, and why the number of cyclists in Santiago refuses to stop growing.
The World Bank estimates that the number of cyclists in the capital is increasing at between 15 and 18 percent annually, and daily bike rides will increase from 2,000 to 3,000 in the next year.
Many cyclists not only see themselves as advocates for clean transport, but also as members of a global movement with a distinct culture. Thousands of city dwellers take to the streets of Santiago on the first tuesday of every month forming the Chilean contingent of the worldwide Critical-Mass bike ride.
“I like cycling for many reasons: it’s cheap, healthy, it produces endorphins,” avid bike enthusiast Leonardo Alcayaga told This is Chile. “I love the mechanism of the bike; it’s so simple and an incredible compliment between machines and humans. I also love the culture and community that surrounds cycling.”
That community has firmly established itself online as well. New websites for Santiago’s bike lovers are being created every month, such as the site Furiosos Ciclistas that offers information and support for the city’s rapidly growing cycling community.
Some websites offer studies comparing rush hour commute times between bikes and other modes of transport, and such practical information has contributed to Santiago leading the way in terms of green transport in Latin American cities.
Two major public-private partnerships with the world bank in the late 80s and early 90s radically transformed the capital’s roads, making way for bus and bike lanes throughout the city.
Between 1997 and 2001, CO2 emissions in Santiago were slashed by 318 metric tons per day. Ninety percent of this decrease was attributed to commuters leaving their car keys behind and opting for buses and bikes.
“The cycling community in Santiago is growing all the time,” Alcayaga said. “When you become part of it, you realize it is so much more than a way of getting around; it is a community built on respect.”