Friday, 11 May 2012

Transport in Medellin

By now I have had ample opportunity to think about my life getting around Medellin so here are a few observations.

Roads: Generally in the city they are in fair but not great condition. There are a few pot holes and lumps and bumps and not a great deal of evidence of repair. Further out of the city the main routes, for example towards Bogota and to the airport are quite smooth and can be safely descended by cycle at speeds of around 40mph. Sometimes lanes are divided by silly plastic posts, mainly on bends, presumably to stop drivers dodging back and forth in the lanes – these can appear without warning if you are overtaking a large vehicle – beware! Secondary roads around Medellin can occasionally give way to sections of compacted mud or sometimes the heavy rains dislodge a large pile of mud blocking the road, and in one case that I saw causing an accident. Marks 7/10

Traffic controls: There could easily be a saving in the cost of white paint by eliminating pedestrian crossings – traffic takes no notice of them and as a pedestrian you may as well ignore them! Traffic lights are generally but not always observed. The green to red ratio is substantially in favour of traffic rather than pedestrians and the somewhat random phasing can leave you stranded on narrow central reservations whilst traffic flies by within inches. Also, pedestrians are rarely protected from traffic turning into a road even though it is being crossed with the benefit of a green man light - so peripheral vision, twitchy eyes and the ability to dodge and sprint are a must for safe crossing. On some roads, for example Las Palmas towards the airport police stand watching at roughly 2 kilometre intervals and cars therefore exercise reasonable restraint. Marks 6/10

Quality of driving: Take nothing for granted, cars generally fail to indicate, they lane hop incessantly, motor bikes, of which there are many, dash in and out of cars. Cars forking right will cut across slower traffic, particularly cyclists and one needs to actively signal intentions to stay in a lane – this is probably the most dangerous aspect for cyclists. It isn't all bad – although there is some impatient tooting of horns some drivers do give way to cyclists; few if any are aggressive and in several weeks I have been here I have only seen a couple of occasions where words were exchanged. Marks 6.5/10

Public Transport: There has been a heavy investment in infrastructure and there is clear connection drawn between the quality of life and improvements in safe journeys. The Metro is the central plank of this. There is one main line running North/South and a shorter cross line with a coupe of cable cars that head up into the barrios. It is safe, clean and efficient – people don't eat, drink or litter in the trains and there are helpful announcements at stations even extolling passengers to give up seats to travellers who seem fatigued and advising of the social and health benefits of using a handkerchief. It is more or less fully wheel chair accessible and it is well used by most people but not noticeably by the better off. 

Metro Map
Metrocable to Santo Domingo

Metroplus is also good and being further developed – these are bendy buses travelling in mainly in dedicated lanes and stopping at special stations with music playing, CTV systems and sliding doors. 

MetroPlus Station
To be honest the rest of the bus system is a bit shaky – it comprises of several private lines and it is difficult to determine where buses are going – it isn't just me, locals are also confused but there is a web site which shows routes and can be helpful. Interactive Bus Map Most buses stop running around 9 pm but start pretty early. Fares are cheap, around £0.75 and there is a civic card that can be loaded at stations and used on the metro and metroplus. Also some fares are integrated between trains and buses, for example to outlying towns reached via hub stations. There are also large 2 bus terminals, North and South for longer journeys where you can find buses to most destinations near and far. Sometimes there are taxi colectivos, again at reasonable prices. I have been to the North terminal and it is very good and well organised and seemingly well policed and safe. Marks 8.5/10

Taxis: There is an over supply of yellow cabs and many wait a long time for a passenger. They have meters and are relatively cheap – a 10– 5 minute ride may cost around £3. I like them. Most of the drivers are nice and helpful – you are not expected to tip but I do and they are always very grateful – a couple of my drivers have seemed a bit coked up but I have fairly high confidence in most of them. Generally there are no seat belts in the rear and it is advisable to lock your door, keep valuables out of sight and wind your window most of the way up. You can also get your hotel or hostel/bar etc. to call a cab in which case you will each have a code number to exchange so as to enhance security. Marks 8/10

Cycling: People here cycle for sport and as an economical form of transport although there are far fewer bikes than motorbikes. There are some helpful cycle paths but they tend to be used by pedestrians and aren't always well signposted. Large drain covers, of which there are many have widely spaced bars and need to be avoided. 
Cycling Hazard
On Sundays and holidays the Ciclovea is opened and there are 2 lanes and about 15 miles of fairly uninterrupted cycling but beware of erratic children on BMXs and skaters who also share this space. Otherwise at weekends sports cyclist head out of town in their droves both for mountain and road cycling. Leaving the city mostly necessitates a steep and long climb but the route towards Barbosa is mostly downhill and towards Caldas the hill is gradual but then steep. 
Road towards Barbosa
There is a dedicated and free criterium circuit of 0.9 of a mile and a cool outdoor velodrome – both of which you are free to enter if there are no events. If like me you are a keen cyclist, Medellin's surrounds rather than the city itself are a major cycling attraction and you can easily hook up with local groups – I have been adopted by club Mariela and I love it. Marks 9/10
Not an exhaustive resume but hopefully helpful – feel free to get in touch if you need more cycling specific information.

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