Medellín is one of the most polluted cities in Latin America and its traffic density is a factor. Our initiative focused on two ways to change the use of cars: promoting bike use and the design of ecological vehicles.
Our school is located in the city of Medellin, an industrial center in Colombia. Its rapid population growth in recent decades has seen an uncontrolled increase of its vehicle fleet, without an adequate development of road infrastructure. Furthermore, since the city is situated in a valley with little wind circulation, toxic gases from industry and motor vehicles are accumulated in the air, threatening the health of the population (Medellin is ranked 15th among most polluted Latin American cities). The desire to help solve these problems motivated us to participate in "Your ideas Your Initiatives".
In the first stage, the seventeen students accepting the call were grouped into seven teams to investigate certain aspect of mobility in the city. Two teams analyzed traffic congestion in the school area and in the neighborhood where most students dwell. They found that the number of vehicles traveling at peak times exceeded the capacity of the roads. The other two teams focused on the lack of road safety education and found that both drivers and pedestrians are often unaware of traffic rules or, if they do know them, do not follow them because they see that others break them too; this creates accident risks and traffic jams. The last two teams reviewed the newest trends in car design and found that although car makers seek to reduce environmental impact and improve mobility (e.g. self-driving cars), the mass marketing of electric or driverless cars is not at the moment in the interests of entrepreneurs or local consumers.
After this first exploratory stage, all seventeen students gathered to put together what we had found and set priorities for taking action. We knew from school that we could not make the whole city change, but we could improve awareness and habits in our school community regarding vehicle use. We concluded that the main problem was that we too often use private cars and do not take advantage of other means, such as cycling, public transport or car sharing to transport us to school; we had to do something in order to let our colleagues become aware of this reality.
To validate our conclusion, we decided to conduct a survey at school to find out if our colleagues were willing to ride bicycles or share their cars, and what difficulties there were in doing that. We surveyed 113 students between 8 and 18 years old. This survey revealed that 51.3% were willing to come to school by bicycle, because it contributes to improving the environment and city traffic. 48.7% were not willing to because they live too far away, do not feel safe on the roads or could not find a place to park their bikes at school. This made us notice that the school’s bicycle parking is insufficient (it has only four places) and that we should do something about it.
The survey also asked our colleagues if they were willing to share a car with other students, even if they were not family members or friends. The answer was unexpected: 82.3% said they would.
After several meetings, the group decided to launch the campaign "Ride Our World" in which two goals were pursued: encouraging the use of bicycles and getting children to reflect on the problems caused by today's vehicles.
"Ride Our World" wanted to bring our peers to experience the benefits of using bicycles for transportation and so we asked the school officials to allow us to organize a bike ride around the school. Not only did they agree and give us their support, but the transit authorities of the city were also interested in our proposal and helped us. We sent a letter to parents to promote the initiative and we went to each classroom to invite children and youth to come with their bikes to school.
In addition, we invited children from 8 to 11 years old to reflect on the problems of modern vehicles, asking them to design the car of the future, an environmentally-friendly, fast and secure vehicle. The best drawings were to be exhibited in a mural and awarded.
We also took on the task of designing a new bicycle parking area for our school, better located than the current one, safer and with more parking stalls.
Friday, May 13th was a magical day at our school. More than 80 students came with their bikes and happily rode them during the break times on the track we had set. A traffic policeman and four road safety educators sent by the mayor of the city helped us to explain to the children ‒ with songs and stories ‒ how to behave on public roads while riding their bike or when walking. We ourselves had to be traffic wardens for a while and realized that maintaining the rules of the road is the best way to care for ourselves and for others.
That day we also displayed the car of the future designs drawn by our younger colleagues: cars powered by solar or lunar energy, flying vehicles, cars capable of cooking food for the family or self-driving vehicles, engines that expel fresh air instead of smoke... But what mostly struck us was a child who showed us feet as the vehicles of the future.
Students and school officials were so excited about the Bike Ride that we all wanted this activity to be performed at least twice a year and everyone was convinced that it was necessary to improve the bicycle parking area. We hope they find the design we presented inspiring.