Movements for improving public transport began a few years ago in São Paulo, with groups advocating for better conditions for non-motorized transport including bicycles and pedestrian pathways. Now these movements have finally been galvanized by a radical change in the predominant model of mobility in the city. Major congestion, accidents and traffic deaths - including thirty-five cyclist deaths - show that the situation is alarming.
Since the election, Mayor Fernando Haddad has made a commitment to implement bike lanes in the city. Last year, he announced that by the end of his mandate, 400 kilometers of bike paths would be developed and integrated into the overall transportation system in order to change people's perception of biking. In recent weeks we have seen, finally, that this proposal is off the ground.
The proposal, recently developed by the City, announced plans to implement the 400 kilometers of bike lanes by the end of 2015 and presents objectives, guidelines, cost and schedule estimates. Though not yet in detail, you can also see the proposed network, and the places where the bike lanes will be built. The plan provides ways for the proposed bike lanes to be connected to subway, train and bus lanes, and public facilities including schools, health centers, hospitals, and recreation areas.
This is excellent news and shows that the city of São Paulo has chosen to improve urban mobility and reverse the historical model based on the use of private car transportation. We have to be clear that we are not just talking about a change on paper, but a deep structural and cultural transformation. And it is impossible to promote such changes without conflict.
Public space on the street is finite, and in order to implement a bike path - or a running or exclusive bus lane - it is necessary to take space away from circulation or car parking, which leaves a lot of unhappy people, as the local press has reported. It's the same story that we saw when the city began implementing dedicated bus lanes last year.
But because we're finally changing the mobility policy of the city, it does not mean that the interventions proposed by the city should not be discussed with citizens before being implemented. Some complaints from the public make sense. One of the main complaints from residents of Santa Cecilia, for example, is that some bike lanes were implemented overnight, without prior notice or discussion with residents and local merchants.
The proposal for bike lanes, as with other initiatives of the past, has not promoted communication or created a dialogue between neighborhoods. Instead the proposal was submitted, received suggestions, and then finally invited the participation of the population. The city is in a hurry to respond to citizens who want to see projects implemented, but it is crucial to recognize that these projects stand to gain more when they are formulated in conjunction with a dialogue with the locals.
How does your city engage the public when proposing new infrastructure projects?
Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.