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Bike Paths Return the Streets to Children in São Paulo, ...

Bike Paths Return the Streets to Children in São Paulo, Brazil

An interesting and very important phenomenon has begun to take shape on the streets of São Paulo: reclaiming public space for children. Places that were previously wasted on private vehicles are now being converted for public use. And among new users are the children of the city, usually accompanied by their parents. This is a

by Nora Lamm September 18, 2014 No comments

An interesting and very important phenomenon has begun to take shape on the streets of São Paulo: reclaiming public space for children. Places that were previously wasted on private vehicles are now being converted for public use. And among new users are the children of the city, usually accompanied by their parents.

This is a situation that is also occurring in Sorocaba, one of the Brazilian cities that have served as a reference in creating bike paths for the city. Roberta Bernardi, manager of Traffic Education for Urbes, told us that her own 12 year old daughter travels from home to her school, pedaling the bike paths alone. "There's a bike path from my house, that goes up to the door of the school building. My daughter only says 'I'm leaving' and 'I'm back' " she says. What a dream.

Far beyond the advantages of improving mobility and public health, reducing traffic congestion and pollution, the re-emergence of lost childhood, by itself, would justify the creation of infrastructure for bicycles. But this is not what has happened in the city of São Paulo, often seen as the "most advanced" city in the country, as we shall see in the following comparison.

Protests in Holland during the 1970s motivated the construction and improvement of bike paths, making the country a global benchmark in sustainable mobility today. The Netherlands created their own bike lanes out of a desire for better security for their children. In 1971, with the use of the automobile rapidly growing - and also traffic deaths - a wave of protests swept the streets to ask the authorities to find solutions to stop the massacre of children. The motto of the campaign was "kindermood stop" (something like "stop infanticide").

A picture of the 1970's protests in Holland

At the same time, the children of the De Pijp neighborhood in the capital Amsterdam started a movement to change the streets that were full of horns and motorized vehicles, as well as garbage on corners and the constant danger of crossing from one side to the other. Even the sidewalks were cluttered with parked cars, choking the already narrow space. Families with children had no choice but to keep them at home to watch TV in cramped apartments that were densely populated. Might this resemble the current situation in São Paulo today?

Realizing that heavy motor traffic prevented them from living their childhood, and worse, brought the risk of hurting them, the adults demanded that the cars be removed. More than 40 years later, the streets not only in the De Pijp neighborhood, but in different parts of Amsterdam, have safe pedestrian circulation and are places of human coexistence. You can play, talk and walk. Without that urban mobility is compromised. The Dutch capital, today, is one of the world's best cities for efficient and safe transport because of the balance between the use of bicycles, cars, public transport and walking.

Protests Against Bike Lanes in São Paulo

The region where bike lanes have faced more resistance from residents and traders is the district of Santa Cecilia in the central region of São Paulo. Some citizens recently registered a police report against the city for implementing bike lanes without warning. This complaint hides their true motivation: not being able to use public space in front of their home or business as a private parking area, for themselves or for their clients.

An example of bike lanes in Sao Paulo that are regularly used by local children, Sao Paulo, Brazil

To add to the nonsense, the complaints against bike paths were promoted by the Community Security Council region (CONSEG). This group that rightly should promote the security of those who live, work and circulate in the region are actually working against the structure that promotes security for citizens, including their own children and grandchildren.

It is amazing that in the year 2014, we have to waste our energy defending the creation of bike lanes in a city where so many people are still afraid to cycle among cars. We must ask ourselves, what city do we want? A city that our children deserve? Think about it.

Is your city child friendly? How has your city reacted to policies promoting alternative transportation practices? 

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Nora grew up surrounded by the varied architectural styles and geographies of the Southwest U.S. After graduating from Middlebury College with a B.A. in Latin American Studies and Geography, Nora moved to Wash...

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