Since the 1980s, Mérida has grown dramatically in size and population, as well as cars on the road. Combined with a lackluster mobility infrastructure, the result has been a city far from friendly for cyclists.
But in recent years, this has begun to change, in no small part thanks to the Cilcloturixes, Mérida’s most prominent urban cycling organization.
Founded in 2012, Cicloturixes have played a vital role in getting new government mobility programs off the ground, including the city’s nearly 50 miles of bike lanes as well as improved infrastructure for pedestrians.
The organization started as a small club of folks who enjoyed exploring nearby cenotes and archaeological sites on their bikes. But inspired by a pro urban cycling group in México City called Bicitekas, the fledgling Cicloturixes decided to make urban cycling and safety their main priority.
To this end, the club began organizing nighttime ride-a-longs to promote urban cycling and using fun to get people to rethink their mobility options. In time the Cicloturixes began to expand their activities to nearby communities like Acanceh, Motul, and Hunucmá
“The main reason people in Méria are resistant to cycling is because they feel it’s not safe. There are many reasons for this, but drivers’ attitudes often really don’t help at all,” said Everardo Flores, the president and principal spokesperson for the organization.
A large part of Ciloturixes’ philosophy has to do with social justice and doing away with stigmas, as cycling in Yucatán has, for many, been associated with poverty and danger. This is to say nothing of the ever-increasing traffic and carbon emissions experienced by the city daily.
Everardo notes that even in smaller communities that used to be much more cyclist-friendly, many motorcycles and moto-taxis have made the streets much more dangerous. Furthermore, while changing hearts and minds is essential, establishing clear rules and regulations and infrastructure is essential, not only in Mérida but everywhere, to avoid accidents and deaths.
For several years, the organization has been mounting white bicycles on power and telephone poles to bring attention to cyclists who have died due to driver negligence. “This is always an extremely sad thing to have to do. But it’s important that folks know they also had names and the right to be on the road,” says Everardo Flores.
To improve this situation, the Cicloturixes have been working closely with local and state authorities to revamp city ordinances and bi-laws to make cycling safer for everyone and get as many cars off the road as possible. But a big part of achieving these goals also involves improving public transit, a plan that is fast becoming a reality with new bus routes, innovative alternatives like the upcoming ie-tram network, and even options to bring bikes along on specially designed racks.
That said, the organization also emphasizes the roles cyclists play in their safety, such as the avoidance of cell phones and headphones and the use of reflective gear.
Of course, aside from safety, Yucatán’s blistering heat is also an obstacle, as arriving drenched in sweat to work or appointments is not an option for most. To this end, the organization promotes the notion that employers make accommodations and even offer showers to allow workers to change on-premises before getting to work.
“There are many challenges, but in many ways, Yucatán’s cities are perfect for cycling. Streets are flat, and there are certainly no ice patches to wipe out on,” says Everardo.
The ultimate goal for the Cicloturixes is to get folks to consider motor vehicles as a last resort when it comes to mobility, as well as to make it possible to get anywhere in Mérida using bike lanes. Though this goal seems lofty, the organization points to efforts made in cities like Paris and Copenhagen as models to follow — as well as the 15-minute city project, which aims to put people at the center of urban transformation.