Sitting on a stool on the sidewalk near the Largo dos Guimarães plaza in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Arnaudo Comes de Souza observed a road taken by construction. It was around lunchtime on a Wednesday. Without customers to welcome, the owner of one of the most traditional restaurants of Santa Teresa, Bar do Arnaudo, was the true picture of a neighborhood taken by melancholy.
In the coming month, it will be four years since the iconic yellow “bondes” (tram cars) stopped circulating, after an accident in 2011 left six dead. Since then, the efforts to get them back on the rails have stalled, spreading disbelief and damage. The new date to start the trams again was released by Governor Luiz Fernando Pezão on Wednesday July 22: it is now said to be ready by the first half of 2017. This only prolongs the astral hell of the traditional neighborhood that continues to suffer from the escalation of violence.
Everyone suffers: residents, merchants, and artists, as well as those who visit the hilly neighborhood. Natacha Fink is a member of AME-SANTA, the Association of Friends and Entrepreneurs of the Neighborhood, which brings together 25 businesses. It notes that in the service and trade sector, losses in revenue remain close to 40%, with the worst having occurred this past May at 60%.
“The customers went away. All that remains is the stones and dust. There’s only activity on the weekends and a little on Fridays. I still have the privilege of owning my own property. But those who rent are not going to wait. Uncertainty is everywhere,” said Arnaudo.
The accident with the bonde -- on Rua Joaquim Murtinho on August 27, 2011 -- unleashed a period of turbulence in Santa Teresa. The governor at the time, Sérgio Cabral, said that the system was mismanaged and should be scrapped. Two years later, in November 2013, the government announced an initiative to bring it back. It was promised that by 2014 the bondes would be running again.
A Series of Planning Failures
After mistakes and unforeseen events, about 33% of the work (3.5 km) have been completed by the group Elmo-Azvi. The government has avoided discussion regarding a new deadline for the completion of the work, being that the estimated intervention costs have already exceeded 49% of the initial estimate: it was R$ 58.6 in June of 2013, and now has come to R$ 87.1 million.
Then, on July 22nd in a visit to the construction site of the metro Line 4, Governor Pezão talked about a new deadline. He stated that everything would be done by mid 2016, but then, after an exchange of glances with the State Secretary of Transportation Carlos Roberto Osorio, modified his statement:
“We want to have all of the work ready by the first half of 2017. I am prioritizing resources so that it won’t be interrupted. But it’s not an easy place to work. We have already had many problems,” he said.
Stretch in Pre-Operation this Month
At least a small gift to Santa Teresa is that the yellow vehicles will be revived by the end of July, Osorio guarantees. They will briefly enter into pre-operation from 11 AM to 4 PM on the stretch from Largo da Carioca to Curvelo. “We are fighting for the works to be completed -- not to reduce the amount of time it takes, but to guarantee that it’s done with quality and safety,” says Jacques Schwarzstein, President of the Association of Residents and Friends of Santa Teresa (Amast).
Taxis Refuse to Serve the Neighborhood
Other means of transportation in the neighborhood are also reasons for complaints. Alexandre Tulio Paixão, Restaurant Manager of Bar do Mineiro says that revenues fell 30% since January of this year, which he attributed to another obstacle:
“Patrons complain a lot about the taxis, which, because of the construction, do not want to ascend the hills of the neighborhood… The transit is a mess. Buses are substituting for the bondes, but are not at all effective.”
Hotel Director Mônica Paixão complains that her clients have to live among chaos: “The hotel, since March of 2014, has been without a main entrance. The bonde is a main attraction to foreigners.”
The increase in violence is also worrying. In May, eight were killed by the war for control of trafficking in Morro da Coroa, which has been occupied by a UPP police unit since February 2011 . In the second quarter of this year, there were 81 assaults on pedestrians, compared to 63 in the same period of the previous year.
How are neighborhoods affected by stalled transportation projects in your city? Have delays been the fault of poor leadership? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.