A local activist is taking a playful approach to tackle a deadly violation of pedestrian rights in Mexico City. It is estimated that the 5 million cars operating in Mexico City cause 63 traffic accidents, leave 21 wounded, and kill 3 people every day. At least one of those fatalities is a pedestrian. Traffic accidents claim more casualties than the country's infamous drug war. Also, traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in Mexican children.
Peatónito was an average citizen like any other, until the day he decided to stand up for pedestrian rights. Wearing a mask emblazoned with the a pedestrian symbol and a cape simulating a zebra crossing, he decided to fight against the empire of the car. His goal was to perform an action-spectacle of civic culture to restore the pedestrian's role as king of the road.
"I began as an activist of sustainable mobility, working with urban cycling groups, and I noticed there were no pedestrian groups," the masked man said in an interview on one of Mexico City’s busiest avenues. "I decided to take action and promote pedestrian rights in a communicative, fun way, by dressing as a wrestler and going out to the streets of the chaotic city of Mexico to defend pedestrians against terrible traffic."
The activist takes on various responsibilities as the self-proclaimed defender of pedestrians. While some of his work is as simple as removing obstacles from sidewalks, and spray-painting zebra crossings to mark dangerous crosswalks, he also negotiates with vendors to ensure there is enough space for pedestrians and wheelchair users, and goes as far as attacking reckless drivers. Peatónito’s efforts also extend into reporting road infrastructure problems to officials, offering training courses to educate the community, and participating in pedestrian-related conferences. He is also an active member of several organizations, such as La Liga Peatonal (the Pedestrian League), a group dedicated to promoting and defending the rights of pedestrians.
One of Peatónito‘s main gripes is that Mexico City is managed by cars and for cars. "It is important to know that in this city, only 20 percent of the population travels by car; however, they occupy 80 percent of the road. They are a very annoying minority," he said. "There is an 80 percent of the population who travels by foot, bicycle, and public transportation. Any policy that you create in favor of cars is regressive, because it is favoring a minority.”
Mexico is among the 10 countries with the highest incidence of traffic-related deaths. Despite the ranking, the country's process to obtain a driver’s license was surprisingly permissive until a few years ago. In 1997, Mexico City’s first elected mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas decided to eliminate the theoretical and practical driving tests, removing regulation in a city where traffic law already was quite flexible. Recently, the country passed a new traffic law with a main objective of giving priority to pedestrians. The law requires an exam to get a driver’s license and it defines criteria for the suspension of a license.
Peatónito and his colleagues remain skeptical about the real impact of stricter driving laws. They defend the concept of urban planning based on the pyramid of values, where the pedestrians are at the top and cars at the bottom.
Along with the Pedestrian League, Peatónito and his colleagues launched the Mexican Bill of Pedestrians Rights, which is based on the European Bill of Pedestrians Rights, adopted by the European Parliament in 1988. They hope that Mexican cities benefit from “Vision Zero,” a road philosophy first implemented in Sweden, which aims for zero road deaths based on four principles:
1. Ethics: human life is above any form of mobility or road system
2. Responsibility: those who design and implement road systems share responsibility with users
3. Safety: road systems should take into account human error and reduce the chance of error and fatality if they happen
4. Mechanisms of change: suppliers, regulators, and users of road systems must all be willing to change
Reflecting on the impact of his urban militancy, Peatónito is positive."We have made big changes, because thanks to having earned the public opinion, we have earned the government's agenda and the government already has our discourse,” he said. “It’s very difficult for the government to speak against the pedestrian now."
Nonetheless, he is aware of how much change still is needed to lower the statistics of pedestrian deaths. "Now, the next change is the budget. If politicians are going to say the pedestrian comes first, we really want to see the budget. [We want] to see that it goes to build safe pedestrian crossings, to put bike lanes, for efficient public transport," he said. "We have managed to put pedestrians on the agenda but now we have to convince the driver to abandon the car. The government has to give incentives, because I'm not going to leave my car if a good public transportation system doesn’t exist, if I'm not comfortable, and if I'm crowded."
"We have created something terrible, building a city for cars and not for people... It is our city and we have to work for it, to build together a more human city."
Inspired by Antanas Mockus, former governor of Bogotá, Peatónito is committed to continue using fun and games to promote good citizenship, without losing sight of his goal to achieve a change of mentality in the Mexican society. "We have created something terrible, building a city for cars and not for people. Now, kids can’t play alone, the elderly can’t cross the streets, we live in an environmental congestion that has created thousands of deaths from respiratory diseases. We have made serious mistakes in urban design but we still have time to reverse it. It is our city and we have to work for it, to build together a more human city."
Produced by CAD Productions and supported by UCLG., the Towards the Human City video series and related articles were created to showcase the individuals and initiatives that are transforming cities and making them more human.