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.”

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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.

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Idea List: A cathedral made of waste, sleepy drivers, and more

Need some inspiration for that project of yours, or just interested in new ideas from around the world?

Here are some fresh ones I’ve found while browsing the web lately:

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Refashioned cathedral took 50 years to build. Photo from Dubas (Flickr/Creative Commons)

  • Elderly man in Madrid builds cathedral from salvaged materials (Inhabitat)
  • Horses provide therapy to the disabled and veterans on Long Island (Idea Mensch)
  • Women take baby strollers to the streets in 19 cities across Sweden to celebrate International Women’s Day and raise awareness for global maternal mortality (Matador)
  • Prettier fruit bowls prompt schoolchildren in a NYC lunchroom to eat healthier (Big Think)
  • The Anti Sleep Pilot mobile app in Denmark alerts drivers when they are getting drowsy (Springwise)

Did you read, see, or experience something lately that you think deserves more attention and maybe a copycat or two? Leave a comment below so we can add it to the next idea list!

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[Idea File] Cruising in your neighbor's car

Today’s idea
Car sharing services such as Zipcar have been around for a while, allowing people to access vehicles quickly and for short periods of time. But what if you could rescue your neighbor’s unused car from its dark garage or lonely side street and take it for a spin instead?

San Francisco-based Spride, Boston’s RelayRides and WhipCar in London were all revved up about this idea enough to launch personal car sharing services this year. Although the three companies have varied approaches to the nuts and bolts of the “how,” all support car sharing as a way to increase cash flow, help the environment, and fuel community.

A little too green? Photo by Flickr user makeshiftlove (Creative Commons)

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File
Peer-to-peer car lending reduces waste by providing a direct solution to a need. How?

  • Make money, save money. Car owners get a little extra cash, while car seekers save on rental costs. The rate for Relay Rides, for example, ranges from $6-$8 per hour as compared to Zipcar, whose rates start at $7 per hour as go as high as almost $15.
  • Help the planet. The average car sits idle 90% of its lifetime. Instead of acquiring a whole new fleet of cars and contributing to the overall negative environmental impact, personal car sharing services utilize vehicles that are already on the road. Plus, the likelihood of using a green vehicle is higher.
  • Bond with your neighbors. Car lending is almost as personal as someone lending you their favorite book – think how much you could learn about the guy down the block just by sliding into the driver’s seat. Also, this type of service inevitably brings a more human element to a usually personality-less business. WhipCar, for example, only allows the hand-off of the car to be face-to-face.

How you can replicate it
First, see if this kind of service already exists where you live, whether in a formal or informal capacity. If not, start small with your own networks and grow it from there. (Make sure to check laws regarding insurance coverage.) Go the extra mile by getting in touch with the above mentioned companies to learn about their challenges and successes, and find other interested people in your area by searching Idealist.

Caveats and considerations
The most obvious risk for car owners is that a stranger might ruin their car. Endless things could go wrong while a car is out on the road, not to mention the wear and tear that comes with continually lending. Meanwhile, car borrowers might not know what they’re going to get with an used car, it might not be close to where they live, and the choice of vehicles could be limited. Safety concerns are always an issue, and insurance laws might also be tricky to navigate.

What do you think? Would you go along for the ride, or is this idea too risky?

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