Last updateFri, 03 Oct 2014 3pm

The Via RecreActiva: Where Guadalajara leads the world

Here’s an upbeat story about Mexico that’s unlikely to find its way on to the pages of any north-of-the-border periodical.

Twenty-five leaders of non-governmental organizations from the United States were reportedly “moved to tears” last weekend after experiencing the delights of Guadalajara’s esteemed Via RecreActiva, the groundbreaking, traffic-free Sunday activity for cyclists and exercise seekers, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last month.

Said Guillermo Peñalosa, the director of Ciudades 8-80 who organized the trip: “I could have taken them to Bogota, Paris, Mexico City or anywhere. Why Guadalajara? Because yours is a marvelous program.”

Success stories are often trumped up by politicians with vested interests but some stand out on their own, without the need for augmented hype. The Via RecreActiva is clearly one of these.

Following in the footsteps of Bogota, Guadalajara became the second city in the world to close off its streets and avenues to vehicles in favor of non-motorized transport.  The project was quickly endorsed by the public and soon extended its reach to all corners of the metro area.

Originally 11 kilometers on the city’s Avenida Vallarta-Juarez-Javier Mina axis, the Via toady spans 50 kilometers of metro-area streets. For six hours on a Sunday morning, thoroughfares that are usually the domain of impatient, snarling drivers and their rigs are transformed into chilled-out sanctuaries for healthy living.

Around 25,000 Tapatios now head out to the Via each weekend to cycle, skateboard, rollerskate, jog and walk.

Not only has the Via sparked a resurgence of interest in cycling but it has laid the foundations for dynamic social movements that seek to change mindsets over the relationship between the automobile and the city.

The Via has inspired dozens of cities in other countries to follow suit. Peñalosa said he wants to see cities all over the United States take Guadalajara’s lead.

The Via has also become a magnet for cultural activities, with artistic endeavors now commonplace along the route, particularly at hotspots such as the Parque Revolution, Ex Convento del Carmen and Avenida Chapultepec. Used book sales, giant chess games, theater on bikes, painting and ceramics classes, dancing, singing – the Via is also a charming cultural cornucopia.

Whether it’s a couple riding a tandem bike kitted out in identical soccer uniforms or a two-year-old performing wheelies like a seasoned pro (both spotted on a recent weekend), the Via has a feel good factor that even hardened couch potatoes would find hard not to enjoy.

Most of all, the Via RecreActiva is the most democratic of activities – open to everyone and not burdened by class distinctions. Peñalosa caught its essence perfectly: “(The Via) is a place where the wealthiest people can do the same activity as the city’s poorest families and all can be equally as happy.”

The Via operates from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday.  Join in with or without a bike.  You won’t be disappointed.