Ten cities in the Brazilian state of São Paulo worked with WRI’s Complete Streets Network to implement road safety measures that reduced traffic fatalities.

The Challenge

Walking and cycling are vastly better for people’s health, the climate and local air quality compared to private vehicles. But cities aren’t often designed with pedestrians, cyclists and even public transit riders in mind. Traffic crashes kill around 1.3 million people every year, most of whom are pedestrians.

Brazil committed to address this issue and cut its traffic deaths in half by 2030. The country is making progress: Road deaths in 2022 were 17% lower than in 2021. But traditional approaches to road safety in Brazil, which tend to focus on changing drivers’ and pedestrians’ behavior rather than improving the streets themselves, are not enough to reach the country’s ambitious goal.

WRI’s Role

WRI, in partnership with the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS), launched the São Paulo Complete Streets Network to help Brazilian cities create effective road safety solutions and reduce traffic deaths by redesigning roads. Members received resources, mentorship and technical support from WRI and BIGRS experts.

Across 20 cities selected to participate in the network, more than 800 people attended workshops and trainings based on WRI’s road safety research and guidelines. WRI also hosted seminars connecting network cities with one another to share best practices, as well as with state and federal governments and partners to help expand their efforts.

The Outcome

Between 2020 and 2023, 10 cities in São Paulo’s Complete Streets Network — comprising more than 6 million residents — made roads safer for walkers, cyclists and public transport riders. Approaches ranged from building out cycle lanes and making bus stops more accessible, to increasing walk signal times and extending sidewalks to reduce road-crossing distances for pedestrians.

Setting and enforcing speed limits was particularly important, as speed is the main risk factor for traffic deaths. Working with local governments, cities like São José dos Campos, Guarulhos and Jundiaí reduced average car and motorcycle speeds by as much as 10-30 kilometers per hour on tracked streets.

Critically, many solutions focused on improving safety for the most vulnerable street users. The city of Diadema created a program called Rua da Gente (“People’s Street”) focused on low-income neighborhoods. The project added infrastructure such as sidewalks, streetlights and speed bumps as well as attractions like street art and sports equipment to encourage walking and the use of public spaces. Five other cities redesigned streets in front of schools to protect children and their caregivers.

These cities’ actions saved lives. In 2021, cities in the Complete Streets Network had more traffic deaths per 100,000 people than the state of São Paulo did. In 2022, their crash mortality rate fell below the state’s average — signaling an important course correction and paving the way for other Brazilian cities to follow suit.