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Bike Paths, BRT Going Strong in Latin American Cities

A Metrobus stop on 9 de Julio avenue in Buenos Aires, with the famous Obelisk in the background. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

A Metrobus stop on 9 de Julio avenue in Buenos Aires, with the famous Obelisk in the background. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

MEXICO CITY, Jan 6 2014 (IPS) - Sustainable transport grew in the Latin American cities of Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

The left-wing government of the Mexican capital inaugurated the fifth Metrobús bus rapid transit (BRT) system route and extended the Ecobici Individual Transport System.

It also expanded the Ecoparq parking meter system – a new parking management scheme – into new areas on the west side of the city and opened up a new pedestrian-only street in the old city.

In the Argentine capital, meanwhile, the third Metrobús line began to operate with great success on Avenida 9 de Julio, and the government expanded its “Buenos Aires, mejor en bici” (Buenos Aires, Better by Bike) programme.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the centre-right city government forged ahead with the construction of the Transcarioca and Transbrasil BRT corridors, while the second stage of the Transoeste BRT project got underway.

The network of bicycle paths was also enlarged, as part of the infrastructure planned for the FIFA World Cup, to be held in Brazil from Jun. 12 to Jul. 13, and the 2016 Olympic summer games in Rio de Janeiro.

In Mexico City, “there have been interesting projects, but they haven’t been carried out at the desired speed,” Bernardo Baranda, Latin America director for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), told IPS.

He called for more initiatives and said they should be more rapidly implemented, aimed at “a further reduction of the use of automobiles” in greater Mexico City, home to more than 20 million people.

As part of that objective, he said it was important to expand Ecobici, which includes exclusive and non-exclusive bike lanes as well as a bike-share system.

What is happening in greater Rio de Janeiro, population 11.7 million, “is very exciting,” he said. “A great deal has been invested in infrastructure. Bicycle use has expanded. The centre has great potential for better transport conditions.”

The ITDP Latin America director said that in greater Buenos Aires, home to some 13 million people, “the use of public bicycles has been fomented, along with the idea of turning several streets in the microcenter into pedestrian-only.”

Roberto Remes, an independent Mexican expert in public policies on the environment and transportation, also pointed to interesting developments in the three cities.

He explained to IPS that in Buenos Aires, right-wing Mayor Mauricio Macri “is trying to build an alternative system to the subway,” which turned 100 years old in December.

Meanwhile, “in Mexico we see mainly plans. Apparently we’ll do ok, we’ll have an integrated system with policies focused on mobility and a person-oriented, rather than car-oriented, perspective.”

With respect to Rio de Janeiro, he said “they want their prepaid public fare cards and their institutional image to be the same across the entire country – something that not many countries have achieved.”

The three cities face similar challenges, such as heavy dependence on private vehicles, the proliferation of parking garage buildings, and virtually no progress on road safety, except in the case of Buenos Aires.

In addition, there have been social protests against the infrastructure work accompanying the development of sustainable, multimodal transportation systems.

Baranda said “the bicycle must be better integrated with mass transit, and more integrated transport is needed in order to make it easier to get around.”

On Jan. 15, the ITDP and eight other organisations will grant the Sustainable Transport Award in Washington, DC. This year’s nominees include Buenos Aires, Lanzhou, China and Suwon, South Korea. Mexico City won the award in 2013.

The prize, granted since 2005 to cities of more than 500,000 people, awards accomplishments such as improving public transportation and public spaces, reducing transport-related air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and improving safety and access for cyclists and pedestrians.

This year, the Mexico City government will build another Metrobús line and will expand segregated and non-segregated bike paths.

For its part, the ITDP will focus on reducing the number of parking garages, and drew up a study on the viability of a Metrobús line on the central Avenida Reforma.

For the 2013-2016 period, the Rio de Janeiro city administration plans to build 150 km of bike paths, as well as bicycle parking stations, to reach a total network of 450 km by 2016.

Buenos Aires projects the creation of another four Metrobús routes for 2014-2015.

The December report on “Social, Environmental and Economic Impacts of BRT Systems” stresses the benefits of bus rapid transit in Bogotá, Colombia; Mexico City; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Istanbul, Turkey.

The report was produced by EMBARQ, the sustainable urban transport and planning programme of the World Resources Institute (WRI).

The study shows that BRT systems have led to travel time savings, a reduction in vehicle operating costs, improvements in health due to reduced pollution, and improved road safety.

But it also identifies challenges such as declining quality of service, the exclusion of the poorest residents from the system, limited integration with other transport systems, and competition with subways.

Remes warned that it was not enough to focus transport strategies on merely establishing BRT systems without addressing other possibilities, such as urban trains.

“The existing models of financing, management and planning only allow for the expansion of these systems. If we create BRT corridors, we can cover the cities in a decade, but there is still a problem: transfers and switches from one system to another. There’s something that’s not working in the long-term vision,” he said.

In the 1970s, nations like Japan, South Korea or Singapore began to build railway networks to foment a mix of transport, employment, financing and economic development in big cities.

In Latin America, “we are a millennium behind,” Remes lamented.

 
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