Tue, Feb 11, 2020 - Page 9 News List

Brazilian city’s bike focus shows how to move society forward

Fortaleza’s mayor says that hopefully the improvements made to the city would encourage healthier, faster and more environmentally friendly transportation

By Roberto Claudio Rodrigues Bezerra

The intersection of Avenida Leste Oeste and Avenida Pasteur in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza was always tricky to navigate by bicycle, especially heading east as three lanes of car traffic became two. Data show that every 60 minutes during rush hour, 360 cyclists had to maneuver around and between 2,700 cars, trucks and motorcycles without any protections.

Such conditions are not conducive for cycling, to say the least. Yet bicycles hold much promise as both a mode of transport and a way for Fortalezenses to pursue a more active lifestyle and resist the obesity epidemic sweeping Brazil, where more than half of the population is overweight or obese. With obesity rising by more than 67 percent in the past 13 years, the onus was on my administration to make cycling a more popular choice.

Our goal was to make Fortaleza — a beautiful coastal city and Brazil’s fifth-largest municipality, with more than 2.6 million residents — safer as well as healthier. So, we began to adopt incentives to encourage cycling, particularly measures to make it a better transport option.

The most obvious place to begin was with bike lanes. When roads do not contain dedicated lanes, cyclists have few rights and little safety. Between 2010 and 2018, there were 222 crashes involving bikes on Fortaleza’s roads. Too many families have been torn apart because their youngest and healthiest members are incapacitated or killed on their daily commutes.

At the start of 2013, when we stepped into office, the city had only 68km of bike lanes, and many of our sidewalks were falling into disrepair or being used as parking lots, forcing pedestrians into streets that were jammed with cars.

RECOGNITION

However, after six years of addressing our infrastructure, our efforts gained international recognition for reclaiming more than 12km2 of streetscape for pedestrians and almost quadrupling the total length of bike lanes to 263km.

Today, four out of every 10 Fortalezenses live within 300m of cycling infrastructure — the best result among Brazilian state capitals, according to the New York City-based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Given that many studies have found that introducing bike lanes has a positive economic impact, especially on local businesses, we believe we made a wise investment.

Of course, not everyone can ride a bike. That is why we also invested in dedicated bus lanes. The increase from 3.2km of dedicated lanes in 2013 to 115.9km last year has allowed our buses to go from pedestrian speed to bike speed. The hope is that these improvements will encourage more people to switch to a healthier, faster and more environmentally sustainable mode of transport on the way to and from work.

One of the biggest hurdles to commuting by bike is that too few people own one. Theft and the cost of purchasing and repairing a bike are the main barriers. Bike sharing removes these obstacles.

BIKE SHARING

In Fortaleza, a new subsidized bike-share project called Bicicletar Corporativo provides city employees with bike access from 16 stations spread across the downtown area. The program serves as a model for private companies to consider when encouraging their own staff to commute by bike.

All of these improvements, as well as events such as Car Free Day in September last year, are meant to make the city safer, not just for cyclists, but for everybody on the road. And they have worked. Between 2014 and 2018, road traffic deaths recorded by traffic and health authorities fell by 40 percent, from 377 to 226.

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