Masked hero fights for Mexico City's pedestrians

Peatonito pushes cars blocking the path of pedestrians, creates crossings with spray paint and climbs on vehicles parked on footpaths. "We live in a car dictatorship," he laments.
Peatonito pushes cars blocking the path of pedestrians, creates crossings with spray paint and climbs on vehicles parked on footpaths. "We live in a car dictatorship," he laments.PHOTO: TWITTER

MEXICO CITY • On the mean and traffic-choked streets of Mexico City, a fearless superhero is fighting to protect the planet from the worst that the internal combustion engine can throw at it.

The mighty Peatonito (Little Pedestrian) pushes cars blocking the path of pedestrians, creates crossings with spray paint and climbs on vehicles parked on footpaths - although his mother has begged him to stop stepping on them.

"Pedestrians are happy because they finally have a defender," said Peatonito, his face covered by a mask adorned with a pedestrian symbol and wearing a striped cape (sewn by his grandmother) adorned with the black and white stripes of a pedestrian crossing.

"We live in a car dictatorship. Nobody had fought for pedestrian rights until some activists emerged a few years ago."

Meanwhile, below the streets, five clowns are on a similar mission to send up urban incivility, barging into a metro carriage making monkey noises and holding a sign saying, "It is better without pushing."

Humour is the weapon used by Peatonito and Claustrofobos. They face a city where drivers need only an ID and 704 pesos (S$60) to get a licence and joke that red lights are a "suggestion".

Peatonito and the clowns from civic association the Claustrofobos (Claustrophobes) are among a wave of activists fighting uncivil behaviour and bad urban planning in this metropolis of 21 million people, four million cars and five million daily metro commuters.

In 2013, about 30 groups from across the country formed The Pedestrian League, which published a "Mexican Charter for Pedestrian Rights" and lobbies against public policies that favour cars.

Some groups post pictures on social media to shame drivers illegally parked on footpaths or in handicapped spots. With buckets of paint, they create crossings or trace footpaths.

But humour is the weapon used by Peatonito and Claustrofobos. They face a city where drivers need only an ID and 704 pesos (S$60) to get a licence and joke that red lights are a "suggestion".

Underground, moody metro riders battle to enter and exit trains like rugby players in a scrum.

Claustrofobos and Peatonito say they were partly inspired by former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus, who deployed mimes to mock traffic violators.

Peatonito aims to reduce traffic deaths in a city where pedestrians account for more than half of about 1,000 annual road fatalities.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2015, with the headline 'Masked hero fights for Mexico City's pedestrians'. Print Edition | Subscribe