The vigilante cyclists of San José: ‘Civil society has to be a trailblazer’
Tired of government bureaucracy and traffic jams, activists in Costa Rica’s capital are solving the city’s transport problems themselves: painting crossings, funding research and even building infrastructure
Lindsay Fendt in San José
Tuesday 1 November 2016 13.30 GMT
Four cyclists’ flashing safety lights stand out from the yellow din of San José’s street lamps. It’s almost 11pm and save for a few revellers staggering out of a bar, the group is alone in the heart of the Costa Rican capital. The sound of their brakes echo across the nearby buildings when they stop suddenly as two policeman eye their cans of spray paint suspiciously.
The cyclists aren’t your typical vandals, but their intentions do not fall exactly within the margins of the law. Once the police are out of sight, they slap their stencils on the pavement and spray a trail of white footprints across the street, leading to Parque Morazón, one of the city’s largest parks. After a few minutes, they have created a makeshift pedestrian crossing, before speeding off into the night.
Also attending car-free day is Liza Castillo, the vice-minister of transportation and public works. She pedals a white cruiser on the bike tour to better understand the challenges faced by San José’s cyclists. “It’s important to support initiatives for sustainable urban routes,” she says. “We want to create visibility for this issue.”
But if Costa Rica hopes to reach its deadline for carbon neutrality, clean transportation will need much more than visibility. Despite using renewables for nearly all of its electricity, Costa Rica still relies heavily on fossil fuels. Hydrocarbons make up 67% of the country’s energy use (pdf), nearly half of which is used to power private cars.