One misstep can put passers-by in Bogota at risk. The one that repeats like a funny scene in the movie Charm, where the tiles of the Madrigal house take on a life of their own, is part of everyday life in the central streets of the capital. But far from generating smiles, as in the production of Disney Inspired by Colombia, the cobblestones that rise up in the middle of a public thoroughfare have become a reason for prevention and anger.
For three months, Alix Rojas, 73, has been walking less calmly on the sidewalks of her neighborhood. And it’s not just for fear of insecurity. “It’s because of the concrete slabs on the platform that remain loose after it rains,” she confesses after having suffered a fall that caused bumps and bruises on different parts of her body. It happened to her one morning when she left her house to buy groceries and limped back.
“It is easy to take a step believing that it is firm, but the other plate rises up and prevents you from taking the next step. And there it was I fell to the ground with everything. A stumble on a platform that jumps from one moment to another ”, he narrates. Rojas remembers that nothing mitigated the blow. “Hands, hips and legs were bruised. Fortunately his face was not affected. There were no fractures, but the pain and bruising lasted several days, ”he laments.
Walking through some sectors of Bogota, especially on rainy days, requires testing your luck. The image of citizens avoiding the “spitting” tiles – as they were popularly baptized – is common in residential areas and commercial establishments. “The least of the problems is that people get dirty. There are a lot of people who seriously hurt themselves walking on those tiles. It is a daily misfortune that has become part of the identity of living in Bogota,” says councilor Diego Laserna, who has tried to attract the attention of the authorities by replicating the classic game of minesweeper on the broken platforms.
The problem completes more than 20 years. The construction of platforms with cobblestones was conceived under the first administration of former mayor Enrique Penalosa, who led the recovery of public space and wanted to adapt it to pedestrians. The technical characteristics were contemplated in a primer that was adopted by decree in 2000, and that has been updated. The paradox, two decades later, is that the platforms seem to be more designed to avoid them than to walk calmly. Under the Penalosa administration, the installation of low-quality slabs on the Transmilenio trunks, the mass transportation system, was also denounced. The scandal prompted multiple investigations and cost the city millions in repairs.
In the case of the platforms, investments are also required. According to a study by the Urban Development Institute (IDU), in charge of the construction of road works and public space in Bogota, more than half of the 27 million square meters of platforms were in fair or poor condition in 2018. It is the most recent diagnosis. This year, the District has earmarked more than 373,000 million pesos for the repair of platforms, bicycle paths, and pedestrian and vehicular bridges, a figure that according to the entity falls short to meet the needs. “Despite the efforts to maintain what has been built, the deterioration is evident and progressive due to various factors, including vandalism and the wear and tear of the materials,” acknowledges the IDU.
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The civil engineer from the University of Los Andes, Alberto Cuellar, explains that the deficiencies in the construction of the platforms is a phenomenon similar to that of the Transmilenio slabs. “They call it pumping and it happens due to a bad seal between joints, allowing water seepage that undermines the granulated material on which they are installed. After a while, the tile cantilever and when stepped on it “spits”, that is, it splashes the accumulated water, or it breaks”, he points out. In his opinion, the inspection and adequate maintenance are not being carried out.
The system that was designed in the so-called platform primer worked like Lego pieces that offered practicality in construction. At the time, axes such as Carrera 13, Carrera 15, Calle 90 and Calle 72 were prioritized, all highly trafficked roads in the north of Bogota. It also sought to regulate homogeneous interventions that responded to quality conditions. What at first seemed like a good idea, today is a headache.
The geographer and specialist in urban planning, Mario Hurtado, points out that the paving stone system is not adapted to the climatic conditions of Bogota, a city where it rains between six and seven months of the year. “An alternative would be to think of other types of platforms, which are adapted to the climate and soil of Bogota, which permanently sinks and is the product of sediments. Rainy conditions mean that a platform system that sticks like puzzle pieces and isn’t completely attached to the ground, but just peels off with the water, isn’t ideal,” he says.
The citizen claims appear frequently in conversations and networks, but they have not been enough to evaluate the standard of the works that have been replicated in other parts of the city. “It’s terrible. That takes years and nothing to fix it. These tiles are relatively new and they are already all broken down,” says Mauricio Caicedo, a man who works on Calle 90 with Carrera 15. “You have to keep avoiding, going up and down the street. Not to mention women when they are in heels, ”he adds. Many prefer to go in tennis to avoid accidents, but they do not know what is more dangerous, whether to continue on the broken platforms or expose themselves in lanes where vehicles travel. On average, eight pedestrians are injured daily in accidents in Bogota, according to figures from the Traffic Police. Until last August, 125 had lost their lives this year.
“Walking along the platforms of Bogota generates a feeling of anger and towards the city because it ends up being unfriendly. It is a negative experience in the face of pedestrian traffic that makes people prefer to go down the street, exposing themselves to being run over by the poor condition of the platforms”, adds Hurtado.
Alix Rojas, the 73-year-old woman who overcame the fall on the platforms in her neighborhood, agrees. “The effect is not just that one has to recover. Then comes the fear of walking, of being quietly on a public platform, at any time. It seems minimal, but since then I don’t want to walk there again. It produces more fear than insecurity. The worst thing is that it seems that nobody cares, ”she claims.
The little attention paid to what happens in areas such as those in the north of Bogota, which are close to the eyes of the authorities, reflects the misfortune of being forgotten beyond the capital. “This is nothing for people who have water up to their necks,” says a passerby, remembering the victims of the winter season. “This is a paradise compared to what happens in the regions,” concludes the man who frequents one of the sectors where broken tiles abound.
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