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Thursday, September 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Former mayor of Colombian city talks traffic, and Bogotá's solution

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle might think it's green, but the pro-transit, pro-bicycling projects here look timid compared to Bogotá, Colombia.

That city has built more than 200 miles of bicycle paths and a bus-rapid-transit system, the TransMilenio, that provides 1.3 million rides a day.

Former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa explained how he did it Wednesday at a Seattle forum sponsored by the Discovery Institute think tank.

Where right of way was tight, his densely populated city expropriated road lanes from cars to make room for exclusive bus lanes.

Bogotá also acquired open suburban land to pave a 16-mile road for pedestrians and bicycles, before development arrived. A bikeway gives somebody with a $20 bike the same access that roads give owners of expensive cars, Peñalosa said.

"A bicycle lane that cannot be used by an 8-year-old is not a bike lane," he said. "You need a bikeway that's protected."

His speech came a week after new cost estimates for a Seattle waterfront tunnel and a new Highway 520 floating bridge spiked to top-end figures of more than $5 billion each.

Gov. Christine Gregoire is weighing an Alaskan Way tunnel against a cheaper aerial replacement for the aging viaduct there now.

Peñalosa didn't talk about Seattle politics, but he did ridicule new high-rise highways that slice through booming Shanghai, China. He said his city rejected a consultant's plan for seven elevated highways costing "$5 billion," which would have drained money from schools, parks or libraries. And by choosing bus lanes instead of subways, the city could afford a much longer network.

Kevin Desmond, general manager for King County Metro Transit, said, "We should give ourselves some credit here in the Seattle area" for this region's express buses that move on high-occupancy freeway lanes.

In November, county voters will decide on a sales-tax increase to increase bus-service frequency and add bus lanes on busy streets such as Aurora Avenue North.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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