San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Road safety in Costa Rica: the law of the jungle must rule no more

Para poder compartir este artículo con más lectores, lo hemos publicado también en el español original. Para leerlo en español, haga clic aquí

I like to go to work, run errands or simply enjoy the moment as I travel on foot, on my bike or on the bus. Unfortunately, the situation on our streets is more and more complicated each day – and not necessarily because of our traffic jams, but rather because of the lack of respect for life.

In the next few days my first child will be born, and I wish I could walk with her anywhere without being afraid of being run over. I’d love to take her on a bike ride without worrying about becoming just another statistic.

The lack of respect for human life is a serious problem we are experiencing on our streets. We forget that these are people traveling the streets with us, and think instead of objects: cars, buses, bikes, motorcycles. We forget these are people inside, or on, these different modes of transportation. If we think just about cyclists (or better said, people traveling by bike), so far in 2017, eight people have died after being hit by cars. Last week there was an event that had a strong impact on much of the population: a driver, apparently drunk, driving at reckless speeds, ran over four people, killing three of them and leaving a fourth seriously wounded. The news was spread quickly by journalists and social media, generating a wide range of reactions.

One of the reactions was the organization of a bike march in solidarity with the families of the victims, and to ask authorities for respect and concrete measures to stop the deaths of bike riders. In just a few hours a large number of people confirmed their support. In under two days a group of people got together to organize the event, and less than one week later, more than 7,000 people attended to demonstrate in a tribute to the victims, and to ask for respect on the roads.

The result was the biggest event in the history of urban cycling in this country, an image that traveled around the world, and a response from the President of the Republic, 24 hours after the event.

One of the outstanding moments of the day was the formation of the image of a huge bike with the word “respect,” all formed by people in attendance. The image was designed by Gerardo Rodríguez and Teo Mezger, members of the coordinating team, with the support of approximately 30 volunteers. Close to 1,500 people participated in the creation of the image, and the final result was truly surprising.

Thousands of cyclists on Feb. 5 gathered at La Sabana Park, west of San José, and staged various demonstrations including this human mural demanding respect for them on the roads.

(Mike O’Reilly, Aerial Shutter, Via ChepeCletas)

The demonstration departed from the statue of former President León Cortés and ended at the place where, on Jan. 29, the three bike riders had been killed. People came from all over the country to participate, including cyclist groups from various communities throughout the seven provinces, and family members of the victims. The effort was entirely collective: people united peacefully against the lack of respect on our roads, and in favor of a change.

Given the situation on our streets, we need new legislation to protect people who travel by bike. We need current legislation to be enforced. We need better roadway education, and certainly better civic education. Thse are just some of the issues that have been discussed vigorously in the days since the Feb. 5 march. It’s hard to read so many negative comments posted to the social media accounts of the news organizations that have been reporting on these events. The lack of respect is clear, both in the streets and on social media: a disregard for life itself, where the law of the jungle seems to rule, the law of the strongest, the law of the biggest vehicle.

It’s time to give a human face to the people who travel on our roads and highways, no matter what kind of vehicle they’re in. It’s time to educate our population from the time they are small, stop educating with a car-centric model, and broaden our horizons to a human-centric model. At the same time, it is necessary to make changes in both legislation and its application, and in roadway infrastructure that takes humans into account.

Nevertheless, the biggest change of all must come from each one of us, from our behavior and attitude. When it comes to sharing our streets with others, we need a collective change.

Roberto Guzmán is the director of ChepeCletas.

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Mark Kahle

The streets here are designed for cars only. There are no shoulders, no bike lanes, the sidewalks are a mess and uneven.

As long as public safety takes a back seat to roadside buildings nothing will ever be done. As long as MOPT and CONAVI traffic and construction engineers still come from a many decades old curriculum nothing will ever be done.

There are simply too many endemic problems based in false pride that will always stop any real advancement in this area (and many others).

Let’s face it… San Jose (and most things there) is not a poster child for civic planning. It is simply the place that sucks the life blood out of the rest of the country.

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Yet a tica explained it to me, thus:
” the streets of this wonderful old city were designed for mules pulling carts, that is why the driving is such”

Personally, I get a good chuckle watching the taxis and buses drive like one hates the other.
When I do drive in Costa Rica, it is usually to get from the city to a place where I can relax and enjoy the peace.
The more turmoil I leave behind, the greater the reward of the quiet

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Ken Morris

Of course I agree with this article and appreciate it, but am in special agreement with the interpretation of the problem along the lines of the law of the jungle.

During my decade in Costa Rica, I too have formed the opinion that many regard traffic as properly operating according to the non-ethic of “might makes right.” Others in other countries do this too, and this law of the jungle is always a default possibility for humanity, but it strikes me as especially pronounced in Costa Rica. It’s as if the bigger and more powerful the vehicle, the greater the claim its drivers believes they have to not only the roads but also the sidewalks and so on. Indeed, my pet peeve is motorists who insist upon both going straight and turning at intersections, which prevents pedestrians from crossing the street even with the light. What are these motorists thinking?

The correct ethic is the opposit, namely that the bigger and more powerful the vehicle, the greater the obligation of the drivers to look out for weaker vehicles and pedestrians. This is kind of civics 101, but for some reason the otherwise nice Ticos seem never to have learned this. Put them behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and they turn into either brats constantly honking their horns in the hopes of getting their way or monsters bullying others. There are other issues needing to be addressed, but this attitude really needs to be addressed.

BTW, I don’t drive but I do ride a bike, at least sometimes. (Usually I walk.) I’m not big on participating in demonstrations, but had I not been sick on the day of this bike demonstration, I would have attended it. Enough really is enough, and it’s long past time for a change.

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There is definitely a growing issue amongst ticos and their road rage; its getting WAY WORSE really fast.

However, the PRIMARY issue behind ALL OF IT are the terrible narrow roads without thought of pedestrians and bikes.

With roads this bad, and more and more cars on them, people are getting more rage as they try to get from one place to another.

Fix roads, Fix sidewalks, Build bike lanes, ticket all the assholes who pull into the middle of an intersection on a yellow light because they don’t want to wait, and you solve a lot of these issues.

Instead the government seems content to pillage its own people and pocket the money. THINK ABOUT IT! We all give the government our money, but do we get to decide what it goes to? No – self-serving politicians make that decision, not the people. Where’s the accounting? The public should demand a PUBLIC VIEW of ALL GOVERMENT SPENDING to be sure OUR MONEY is going to WHAT WE WANT!

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This is, indeed, an important event. I must admit there are Ticos who drive sanely and with respect. Unfortunately this is a small percentage.
The majority of Ticos are expert at OFFENSIVE driving with little knowledge of defensive driving.
When two lanes are merging, most Ticos will close their separation to bumper-to-bumper thereby preventing the other lane to merge. There appears to be a lack of concern that this is, in actually, creating more of a traffic jam then allowing the other lane to merge 1 by 1.
Prior to relocating here 10 or so years ago I was an avid bicycler. After witnessing what was happening here, I gave bicycling up.
However, it is not only the bicyclist that are exposed danger here, but also pedestrians. In the more urban roads I have seen both bicyclist and pedestrians forced off the road because the car/truck driver can’t comprehend the possibility of slowing down for a few seconds. Many times, when I have slowed down for bicyclist/pedestrians, the traffic to my rear honks in anger and passes without concern for the hazard they are creating; even on blind curve narrow roads.
I doubt the Politicians will change anything, or if they do, doubt the change will be effective. There is not the means to police the current traffic laws let alone additional requirements. As an example, look at the large trucks blocking all lanes on a multiple lane highway. Police notice but do nothing. Most are aware of the hazard created by the motorcyclist driving in an extremely offensive way, but naught is done about it. Nothing is done about the noise created by motorcycles who have loud noise muffing rather than nor reduction muffling, even after the studies that show this is a health concern.
These are problems that have been allowed to become part of the culture just as the terrible trash problem in this wonderful environment concerned country.
I do support but whish all luck.

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And the judge let the driver that killed 3 cyclist go free!!!!!!!!
Manslaughter is a serious crime that needs to be delt with.

And on the other hand, pedestrians and cyclist must obey the laws too. ride single file, have lights and reflectors at night…etc

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Congratulations to The Tico Times, Roberto Guzman, and to all of the people of Costa Rica who attended or supported this very important event. You are right; Education is needed. RESPECT is a good place to start.

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