It’s a bike! It’s a car! No—It’s Peatónito, Mexico City’s masked defender of pedestrians

With Cinco de Mayo coming up this weekend, we’re shining a spotlight on one social innovator from Mexico City mixing both brawn and brains to make change. 

Peatónito halts traffic at a crosswalk in downtown Mexico City (Photo credit: Peatónito)

Peatónito halts traffic at a crosswalk in downtown Mexico City (Photo credit: Peatónito)

In sweat pants, a long black cape, and a traditional luchador (or Mexican wrestler) mask, 26-year-old Jorge Cañez easily stands out in the congested hubbub of downtown Mexico City. And that’s exactly what he wants.

Jorge, or “Peatónito”—the name of his masked alter ego, has taken it upon himself to bring pedestrian safety back to the streets of a city known internationally for it’s high pedestrian fatality rates. Stationed at high-traffic intersections across town, Jorge acts as an intrepid traffic cop, signaling cars to stop at crosswalks and valiantly guiding pedestrians to the sidewalk.

“People ignore the importance of pedestrian safety in this city, and it’s deadly,” says Jorge, who says that Mexico City sees at least one pedestrian death daily. “I’m trying to make a change by making it fun.”

Peatónito (a derivative of the Spanish word for pedestrian, peatón) has been an active character in the streets of Mexico City since last June. After winning over city transportation officials and community members alike, Jorge’s persona has trigged a transformation within the city’s inner workings.

“I think I’ve helped incorporate the speech of the pedestrian with the department of transportation,” he says, adding that while the city has recently show great interest in bicycle infrastructure, they’ve all but ignored the needs of pedestrians. “Now they actually have an real agenda and are creating public policies to improve pedestrian facilities.”

However, getting to this point took a heap of commitment and drive from Jorge’s end.

A political science graduate and past consultant for Mexico’s Institute of Transportation and Development, Jorge originally advocated for pedestrian rights with a group of local activists, stealthily painting impromptu crosswalks and placing cemented benches in pedestrian-heavy areas downtown. While these acts were essentially illegal, the police who caught Jorge and his team in the act would usually see the good in their intentions.

Peatónito helps an older couple cross the street. (Photo credit: Peatónito)

Peatónito helps an older couple cross the street. (Photo credit: Peatónito)

“Every time it’s the same: We explain to the police what we’re doing, and there’s never a problem,” says Jorge. “They know it’s helping.”

But Jorge still wasn’t convinced that this level of advocacy was enough to make a substantial shift in driver’s (and official’s) ways. So, he took a page from the book of one of his own heroes: Antanas Mockus, the past mayor of Bogotá, Colombia.

“Bogotá used to be one of the more dangerous cities in the world, especially for a pedestrian,” says Jorge. “But Mockus fired the corrupt transit police and hired 400 mimes to police traffic. He made it fun, and things began to change.”

Now, people are turning to Jorge to learn from his work and promote his actions, including local political parties. But the caped crusader remains committed to his original cause.

“Sometimes I get calls from [political] parties asking me to join them,” says Jorge. “But I don’t have a party. I don’t have any side alliance. I am simply an ally to all pedestrians.”

-

Interested in pedestrian activism or want to learn more about bringing a similar movement to where you live? Send Jorge an email at jorge.canez@itdp.mx or check out Peatónito on Facebook.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Ideal to real: How to get books onto public buses?

An experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Every morning, Idealist staffer Amy Potthast reads books with her son on their 30-minute bus ride to his preschool.

featured

Experts say you should read with your kids 30 minutes a day. Photo by Khaleeka (Flickr/Creative Commons).

The bus route is long and circuitous, and travels through a mixed-race, mixed-income neighborhood full of families. Frequently other parents and their children board the bus, and Amy draws an attentive audience of kids who sit nearby and listen politely to the stories, looking at the book illustrations.

Amy keeps thinking that on long, family-populated buses like theirs, there should be milk crates at the front full of donated books for young riders and their parents to read on 20- to 30-minute bus rides.

She knows it’s a pipe dream, and realizes bus drivers may resist having to keeping up with books on the bus. In chatting with others, the main considerations seem to be:

1. Getting more parents on board in advance, including actual endorsements from and partnerships with groups such as the local PTAs, neighborhood associations, and Head Starts.

2. Working with drivers’ unions to get buy-in and to ensure that implementing such an idea wouldn’t impact the drivers’ ability to drive safely. The local transit authority is very sensitive to driver safety. They’re also careful with their public image.  If books caused children to misbehave in order to hear stories, the plan could backfire.

3. Placing the milk crates in a secure place is important: is there a way to use unused space that doesn’t compromise any seating or safety, and fastening the crates so they can’t slide around?

4. Building a strong grassroots organizing approach, bus-by-bus, with grassroots funding (e.g. private resources), including a pilot on a couple of lines first.

5. Determining policies regarding book borrowing and donation, then educating bus riders about the rules.

Amy would to love see this project grow and succeed. Can you help her with some advice?

  • Do you know of any other projects that place free reading materials on buses?
  • What organizations should be included in getting the project off the ground?
  • Who might fund this kind of project?
  • What resistance should we be prepared to respond to?
  • Do you know of any research that supports the value of reading to kids?
  • What other considerations should Amy keep in mind?

Leave a comment below and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email julia at idealist.org.

Tags: , , , , ,