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Meet the “superhero” who is going above and beyond in Mexico City

Flickr- Storkholm Photography

Sometimes I forget the many forms being a global citizen can take. The story of Peatónito, Mexico City’s very own “superhero,” was a refreshing reminder of this.

It’s easy to look at all the crazy things going on in the world and be like, “OK, well what can I do about it?” I want to make a change, but how? I’m not a social entrepreneur, I don’t have the resources to impact an entire community, I’m not a politician….so, what’s my role?

via GIPHY

Sometimes, you’ve just got to think outside the box.

Mexico City has over 20 million people, making it the fourth most populous city in the world and home to tons of infrastructure issues, road safety high among them.

In general, Mexico is infamous for its intense traffic and dangerous roads. The World Health Organization estimated that traffic accidents are responsible for over 16,700 deaths every year, and that pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists account for over a third of these deaths. The vast majority of those killed or injured in road accidents are between 15 and 29 years-old. In Mexico City alone around 500 pedestrians are killed in road traffic accidents a year.

But despite these scary stats, and the fact that only 30% of journeys in Mexico City are made by car (most people choose to walk or bike), the city has historically neglected to invest in safety measures that protect bikers and pedestrians. The roads are chaotic, public transportation is inefficient, and the message to citizens seems to be: “walk at your own risk.”

Biker in Mexico City.jpgImage: Flickr- City Clock Magazine

That’s where Peatónito stepped in. His name roughly translates to Pedestrian Man, and his mission is to, “fight for the rights of pedestrians.

A photo posted by Peatonito (@peatonito) on

Most of the time Peatónito goes by his real name, Jorge Cáñez. He’s a 29 year-old political scientist who works at a technology lab. He’s your average, everyday citizen, but one who was seriously peeved by how inefficient and complicated public transportation was in his city, and how dangerous it was to walk from point A to point B.

Instead of whining, rolling his eyes, and groaning about it like most people (myself included) would have done, Cáñez decided to do something.  In 2012, Peatónito, his masked alias, was born.

Now twice a week Peatónito can be found in his Mexican wrestler mask and black and white striped cape at some of Mexico City’s busiest intersections, exposing major and minor traffic violations. He comes prepared, armed with a highway code and white spray can in case he needs to touch up any pedestrian crossings. From helping people cross the street, to warning drivers when they’ve broken a traffic law, to even physically pushing cars back that have inched too far into the pedestrian walkway, Peatónito is there to make the roads safer, more regulated, spaces.

#peatonito - Mexico City's own pedestrian rights advocate/luchador.

A photo posted by @m_v_ment on

And thanks to Peatónito and a larger group of activists putting pressure on the local government, there has been tangible success! In August, the Mexico City government introduced a series of new road safety regulations, including reduced speed limits. Now, Peatónito says activists want to concentrate on upping the budget for non-motorized transportation projects by 2016.

While I hardly expect global citizens to start donning superhero costumes and taking to the streets, the story of Peatónito is a welcome reminder of how everyday people can make a difference. If we just start thinking a little more creatively, and don’t shy away from jumping into a cause we care about, progress is possible. Peatónito explained how bringing the “Lucha Libre” imagery into his “role” became a powerful tool. It’s a piece of Mexican culture people identify with and, more importantly, there’s some humor to it. How to make activism fun and exciting, without lessening the impact of the work,  is a lesson the world could learn from.

A photo posted by ZonYa Med (@zonyamed) on

So, the next time you feel frustrated by an inefficiency in your city or hometown, think: WWPD? (“What Would Peatónito Do”...duh). And instead of grumbling to yourself and letting the moment pass, maybe reach out to the local government, or speak out about it with your neighbors. It’s government’s responsibility to respond to and address public demands, but that relationship doesn’t work if the public isn’t demanding anything.

Plus, Global Goal 11 is all about building the cities of the future: clean, efficient and people-friendly.

In what ways does the place where you live need to improve? Let me know in the comments section below.