Rio de Janeiro has long been known for its traffic congestion and lack of affordable, accessible public transit. Now, in celebration of its 450th anniversary and as the host city of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, city leaders are beginning to transform Rio's image into one of a sustainable mobility leader.
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Brazil’s cities, home to 85 percent of the country’s population, are already feeling the effects of climate change in the form of intense rains, temperature spikes, and sea level rise.
But WRI experts recently learned by visiting Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and Brasilia, some cities are also starting to take action to adapt.
EMBARQ Brasil provided technical assistance to the transportation agencies of Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Brasilia—three of Brazil’s largest and most traffic-congested cities—to design and implement bus rapid transit (BRT) systems. In 2014, 154 kilometers of high-quality BRT corridors were launched, cutting 1.5 million people’s commute times by 50 percent.
Brazil is the sixth-largest economy in the world, and 85 percent of its citizens are urban dwellers. However, Brazilian mega-cities suffer from poor transportation design and infrastructure, increasingly relying on cars and motorcycles as people become more affluent. Every day, millions of cars flood Brazil’s streets, resulting in traffic congestion, road fatalities and air pollution. Meanwhile, inefficient, low-quality bus services cause long, uncomfortable commutes. Bus rides that would take 40 minutes in an efficient system take more than twice that in Brazil’s urban areas. These problems are compounded by the country’s booming urban population.
Starting in 2010, WRI’s Brazilian transport arm, EMBARQ Brasil, provided technical assistance to the transportation agencies of Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Brasilia — three of Brazil’s largest and most traffic-congested cities — to design and implement bus rapid transit (BRT) systems. BRTs incorporate bus-only traffic lanes with large, state-of-the-art buses to provide fast, high-quality service.
In each city, EMBARQ Brasil convened bus companies and operators, agency officials, and other major stakeholders to plan and invest in BRT networks. It also hosted workshops, giving those who will implement the projects a chance to learn from BRT experts and put these lessons to use in operation manuals and contingency plans. With extensive experience in BRT, EMBARQ Brasil provided technical expertise to design the actual systems, placing as much emphasis on safety, accessibility and low emissions as on speed and efficiency. EMBARQ Brasil experts then trained the system operators.
In 2014, 154 kilometers of high-quality BRT corridors were launched in Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Brasilia. These systems cut 1.5 million people’s commute times by 50 percent, and millions of city residents benefited from safer roads and cleaner air. The success of the BRT systems has motivated the governments of all three cities to continue to expand the networks, with an additional 211 kilometers of BRT in the planning and early implementation stages. These projects provide a model of transportation reform, empowering and inspiring other Brazilian cities to achieve sustainable urban mobility.
Call it bad timing: Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions intensity is rising while that of most of the G20 countries decreases, just as more infrastructure investment will be needed to support expected economic growth and social inclusion. Representatives of commercial banks in Brazil, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Brazil’s Ministry of Finance and others joined WRI experts to explore how they can collectively help the country make the transition to a low-carbon economy.
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While many of these criticisms are justified, if one looks beyond the shiny new stadiums—namely, to the city streets—a more positive story emerges. World Cup-related investments helped finance sustainable transport systems that will benefit Brazilians long after the final whistle blows.