For a long time São Paulo, Brazil has suffered from a lack of quality sidewalks. However, the achievement of ciclovias in the city has begun to generate a broader discussion about active mobility. Thus the Association for Mobility on Foot in São Paulo was born, which brings together people to fight for accessible sidewalks for all.
“There are many of us who get around in the city on foot. There are several groups in the city, but we don’t have an organization that represents us,” stated Joana Canedo, one of the creators of the project. “Why were the cyclists able to achieve the ciclovias? Because they organized themselves and participated in hearings and meetings related to urban mobility. So we are creating this association, and we want to strengthen it over time to give us a voice to fight for more accessibility.”
And the fight is not just for sidewalks. Crossing time and more pedestrian lanes, among others, are on the association’s agenda. “Crossing time in pedestrians lanes, for example, is calculated for the person who doesn’t have any type of reduced mobility. We want to think about a city in which any person is able to get from point A to point B without obstacles along the way,” explained Joana.
Cultural producer Silvia Albertini, born in Milan, has lived in São Paulo for eight years and has always gotten around on foot, by bike, or by public transit. After the birth of her first daughter in 2013, she realized the difficulty in getting around with a baby carriage and created the Facebook page Calçada Livre (Free Sidewalk). “I ended up taking the metro and going to walk on Avenida Paulista, because it was the only place I was able to walk with my daughter,” claimed Silvia.
To promote walking and a closer connection to the city, the organization Sampapé also emerged, offering cultural tours on foot through the city.
The Sidewalk Holds No Importance in Urban Planning
According to the architect and urbanist Raquel Rolnik, the city is not a result of poor planning. “It is so because it was ruled by an urban policy that prioritized two basic elements: the city as a place to do business -- to generate income, employment, wealth -- and the idea of private as the structuring element, not the public,” says Raquel in the conversation “Culture and Public Spaces,” put on by the “Batata Needs You” campaign in Largo do Batata.
She continues, “Public space is basically a place to connect private points. It’s a place to move goods and people. The road is a place for cars, the sidewalk is as small as possible. For example: Avenida Berrini has a sidewalk that is in some places 60 cm." Because of this, the architect highlights the political importance of the city’s urban policy and movements that advocate the enhancement of public spaces.
According to origin and destination research conducted by the metro, about 30% of the population gets around on foot. This does not include those who walk during their lunch hour or those who walk to catch the bus.
Sidewalks Are a Private Responsibility
As the sidewalks are the responsibility of landowners, it is more difficult to create means to make them standardized. Although the city has an instruction booklet for these specifications, in practice, this is often not what you see.
In the booklet, the sidewalks are to be divided into three lanes: a service lane for trees, signposts, and benches, a free lane, and an access lane, which is to serve the property. But it is difficult to actually find a sidewalk that meets these prerequisites.
“One of the points that we also want to raise is the investment funds for sidewalks. Much should be made public. In the same way that the city is responsible for the roadway, why would it not be for the walk-way?” claims Joana. “Rather than build tunnels, we could have more investment in sidewalks,” she finishes.
How well does your community accommodate pedestrians? What impact have grassroots organizations in your city had on pedestrian access? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.