Tidal Flow in Bogotá

I found myself on the carerra septima this afternoon in Bogotá just shy of 5 p.m. (having just consumed a wonderful dish of la posta negra de Cartagena at the Club Colombia, watched the Netherlands defeat Uruguay, and had a cup of tea from coca leaves to counter the effects of altitude sickness — it seemed to do the trick). In any case Carerra 7 is one of the city’s principle arteries, multiple lanes divided by an island. At 5 p.m., though, something curious happens on this street: It turns into a massive one-way boulevard out of the city, and towards the north. This is an old and much-discussed idea — contraflow lanes — one that was practiced briefly in cities like Los Angeles and made a splash recently in emergency management circles for mass disaster evacuations.

But it was striking to see it in action. At just the stroke of 5 our car was still on 7, and there was already a small stream of vehicles beginning to seep across from the other lane. Their movement was cautious, exploratory, with the first vehicles coming across employing their hazard flashers. Their numbers began to surge, and it was immediately evident that staying on 7 was not prudent. There were one or two traffic police scattered about, and there are signs advising of the change, but one got the sense this was just a bit of ingrained civic behavior, as routine as the clock itself.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 at 7:05 pm and is filed under Cars, Cities, Commuting, Congestion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Tidal Flow in Bogotá”

  1. Peter Smith Says:

    pretty sure DC had at least one big street that went contraflow at rush hour, at least up until five or so years ago. i always thought it was slightly insane — the lengths we’ll go to to avoid fixing the root cause of problems.

  2. Biks Says:

    Until 2002 the Elbe Tunnel in Hamburg, Germany (see consisted of three pipes with two lanes each. Depending on the traffic situation the middle lanes were dynamically assigned to the directions by special signaling and moving barriers. I haven’t been there for long now but I assume they’re still doing this with the now four pipes as the tunnel is still a bottleneck.

    The old Elbe Tunnel (build 1911) had elevators to bring the cars on tunnel level and back to surface. That system is still in use and during the present renovation of that tunnel there is also a one way regulation switching direction at 1 p.m.. This tunnel is also open for pedestrians and bicycles but pedestrians are still allowed to walk both directions.

  3. Ted K. Says:

    Partial contra-flow is probably quite common. In the San Francisco Bay area the Golden Gate Bridge shifts its lane mix from 2+4 to 3+3 to 4+2 as needed. The Caldecott Tunnel is currently a three bore facility with the center bore changing direction depending on time of day (links below).

    Current –
    Fourth bore –

  4. Michiel Says:

    cool observation. HOLLAND! 😉

  5. Logarhythm Says:

    I-64 leading out of the Norfolk/VA Beach area has gates and a system in place to convert to contraflow during hurricane evacuations. They actually test it out every 1-2 years, early on a Sunday morning. There are also several areas, including I-95 in Virginia, that have reversible HOV lanes (and offer humongous time savings, which is why people “slug” in order to have 3+ occupants in order to take advantage of the HOV lanes).

    I have also seen roads in Pittsburgh and DC that, while not 100% contraflow, do have center lanes that will be inbound in the morning, outbound in the evening, and a center turn lane (“suicide lane”) the rest of the time.

  6. Steven Vance Says:

    I think Tom is trying to point out that Carerra 7 in Bogotá is a road that changes directions, like all of the examples the commenters give, but does so without gates, moving barriers, or signals.

  7. Olmedo Ochoa Says:

    I am Colombian, got educated in the US, live now in Pereira and travel constantly by car.

    Your comments and recommendations in your recent visit to Bogota should help to reinforce long-term continuos programs to improve our way to drive in Colombia that, let’s face it, is a disaster. It is the worst among the many countries I know in and outside Latin America.

    There have been many campaigns and efforts with some positive results. But we still have primary causes that prevent faster improvement.

    One of them has to do with control and corruption as you mentioned in the interview with El Tiempo. Our Policia de Carreteras (Highway Patrol) does not have movility. For reasons that are questionable, control points (retenes) are normally found in the same spots along roads. Very seldom there is a Police car moving, for example when traveling from Pereira to Ibague, Cali, Manizales, Medellin, etc. Last Xmas we traveled from Pereira to Riohacha (some 800 miles each way, a two-day trip) for vacation. I counted five patrol cars in the round trip, while traffick violations were by the thousands.

    To make things worse, several of those fixed check points are used to get bribes from violators. I have been offered to forget fines in exchange for cash, after being overspeeding or crossing a solid mid-road line. “Retenes” in Cajamarca crossing the bridge toward Ibague; El Jordan, some eight kilometers from Pereira to Armenia; “Recta Buga-Tulua”, etc, have been converted in real traps where the Officer starts advising the driver the high fine for the regulation just broken. If the person does not accept to negotiate, normally the fine is as stiff as the law allows it.

    In any event, thanks for your comments. I have been around for several decades witnessing some slight trend toward improving our traffick system in Colombia. Also welcoming more and more awareness in the acceptance that part of belonging to the civilized world is by changing our poor behavior on the road, and enforcing the law in an efficient and honest manner.

  8. Andrew Says:

    Same thing happens on Av. Atlântica in Rio de Janeiro. Morning inbound, (all lanes) afternoon outbound, weekends (maybe only Sunday), outside 4 lanes closed completely – becomes extra bike-ped! I can’t recall which direction it remains for traffic, probably the prevailing outbound.

    Interesting that this works in places where otherwise the traffic is chaotic and certainly not particularly law abiding. I think ingrained civic behavior is a good explanation.

  9. Jeremy Cronin Says:

    I have observed a similar thing in New Delhi – where one lane of contraflowing traffic formed on the far side of the opposite carriageway. It appeared to be mostly drivers who turned right and needed to turn right again later, and so avoided having to cross 6 lanes of busy traffic (well, actually 10 lanes although only 6 are marked).
    This happened in the carriageway where there was less traffic flow, and the traffic in the main direction just squeezed up and enabled the formation of one lane of counterflowing traffic.

    Amid all the apparent chaos in New Delhi traffic, these ad-hoc solutions clearly enable much better traffic flow, as do drivers who take the liberty to cross a red light if there is no cross flowing traffic.
    Delhi traffic and Delhi infrastructure in any Western country would become totally gridlocked within seconds without these law-bending ad-hoc cooperative traffic solutions.

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