San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

San José Bike Path Planned

WHEN people first hear the idea of a bike path in centralSan José, through some of the city’s most neglected neighborhoods,along the train tracks and next to a polluted river,“realistic” may not be the first word that comes to mind.But managers of the project are optimistic their visioncan become a reality.“This will happen, if the people want it,” said XeniaEscalante, coordinator of the Río María Aguilar BiologicalCorridor, which is heading up the bike path project for theMunicipality of San José.Understanding that a grand vision cannot be explained,but rather shared, Escalante and other planners host bikerides along various parts of the proposed 20-kilometerroute, twice a month on Sundays.STANDING in a cow pasture, surrounded by butterfliesand looking down to the rushing river below – oracross to the Comptroller General’s Office building in thedistance – it is hard not to share the excitement for the possibilityof a bike path cutting through this wild terrain.Not even the funk of raw sewage cascading into theriver can take away from the incredible scenery and thesense that with the right support, the bike path may be possible.The riverside portion is possibly the most ambitiouspart of the plan. It runs along an unpopulated tract of landon the south side of the María Aguilar River, in southernSan José, near Hatillos.The land here belongs to the government’s Institute ofHousing and Urbanization (INVU). Studies have shown itis partially unsafe for construction, because it falls withinthe river’s flood plain.Armed with this information, planners are asking theEnvironment Minister to issue a decree declaring the land aNational Monument, which would allow the property to be transferred from INVU to the Municipalityof San José.The land would not only make the bikepath possible, but increase the amount ofpublic green space in San José, which, at6% total land, is seriously lacking, accordingto Escalante.CALLED the Trama Verde (GreenLink), the project is not just a bike path,rather it is an overall environmental andsocial vision that ties into municipal goalsof repopulating San José. The plans aims tocreate not only more green space withinthe city, but improve environmental awarenessand protection in all areas near thebike path.“The (María Aguilar) river is an elementof life. But all the trash goes into it. Itis the most contaminated river in all SanJosé. There is no life, no fish. It is completelydangerous to swim in,” said KaremBemamar, an urban specialist and representativeof the Urbanism Agency of Leon,France. She is working on the plan to builda bike path connecting San José’s parksand offer alternative transportation andrecreation.Municipal ecologists and biologists arein the process of cataloging the speciesfound along the river, including butterflies,plants and birds. The hope is to place informationalplacards throughout the area if itis one day open to the public for recreationaluse, according to JenniferGuralnick, who works on the projectthrough funds from the Canadian organizationCUSO.Open spaces, currently used as pasturelandfor a handful of city-dwelling cows,could serve as picnic areas, Guralnickpointed out. The cows have already worn aflat trail along a corridor that the bike pathcould potentially follow.While trash and sewage still pollute thearea, students have started reforestation projectsas a part of the environmental educationthey are now receiving in their schools,thanks to efforts by Escalante and others.Their growing environmental respect isevidenced in murals of the river on theirschool walls – remarkably graffiti-free –along the bike path’s proposed route.BEYOND the river corridor, the proposedbike path would run past theseschools, and by mechanics’ shops,pulperías and rows of colored houses,through a multitude of little plazas and bya baseball stadium and the Numar factory.It heads through the heart of what someconsider rundown neighborhoods of SanJosé – Barrio Cuba, Hatillos 1 and 8 andnear Cristo Rey.Avoiding these neighborhoods is not theaim of the proposed path, according toorganizers. Rather, because improving thequality of life of the city’s inhabitants is theultimate objective of the project, includingthese neighborhoods is fundamental.“Historically, these have been the mostpopular neighborhoods, but as the citygrew, they have remained marginalized,”Escalante said. “We want to return to theseneglected neighborhoods.”Organizers hope to acquire bicycles thatcan be donated to community groups in theneighborhoods, which can then rent themout to tourists or weekend riders. Neighborhoodbusinesses would also benefitfinancially from related businesses patronizedby path users.“There is no way this could work if thepeople do not have a sense of ownership (ofthe path),” Guralnick said. “We don’t wantjust their support, but their participation.”The idea is that if residents benefitfinancially, they will keep it clean and safe,Escalante explained.ESCALANTE and Guralnick admitthere are safety concerns with the path. Itwill have to be monitored by bike police,they said. Motorcycle police escort the currentSunday rides, not only to preventassaults, but also to help bikers cross busyand complicated intersections.Details of how the proposed path wouldmaneuver through such intersections, viacrosswalks or bridges, have yet to be determined,and depend in part on funding,Guralnick said.The dream is still a far way off, as nofinancing or construction plan exists –proponents are still working on the preliminaryproposal. Engineers have estimated itwill cost $600,000 to build the northernportion of the three-meter wide path alongthe train tracks.Even though the first part of the pathhas yet to be funded, organizers are alreadydreaming of a second phase, continuingalong the train tracks to San Pedro deMontes de Oca, east of San José.For more information about the bikepath call 257-4250 or e-mail

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