São Paulo unveils long-term plan to tame traffic and improve mobility

New measures will serve as guidebook for the city’s administration until 2030

A view over the high rises of São Paulo.
A view over the high rises of São Paulo.BOSCO MARTÍN

Two days before the World Cup began, a perfume store clerk was standing in a long line waiting to get on the bus. She said it would take her three hours to get to work that morning because of the metro strike. The bad news was that even on days when there were no strikes and everything ran smoothly, the journey still took her an hour-and-a-half. The daily commute has become a vital issue for the 11 million residents of this megalopolis.

In order to solve the problem, or to at least make it easier for people to move around the city, São Paulo City Hall has approved the so-called “Plan Director” – a series of measures and directives that will serve as a guidebook for the city’s administration until 2030.

Spending your life on a crowded bus or sitting in a traffic jam is no trivial matter for this rapidly changing society, which is aspiring to live by European middle-class standards. A month ago, Rio Grande do Sul Governor Tanso Genro said urban transport and security would be two of the main issues in the next election. Lucas Monteiro, activist and member of the collective Passe Libre, said the poor state of public transport in the city could lead to new protests.

A few weeks ago, a group of people held the first organized and productive demonstration against the outrageous urban development projects in Recife. And, let us not forget that the spark that ignited massive protests in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other parts of the country a year ago was a small increase in public transport fares.

One measure anticipates almost unrestricted construction of high-rise buildings, provided they are near metro lines

One of the most significant regulatory measures set out in the management plan anticipates the almost unrestricted construction of high-rise buildings, provided they stand near metro lines. The plan is to build close to transport hubs in order to encourage public transport use, even though the metro system is too small and already running at full capacity. There are seven million vehicles on the roads in São Paulo: the regional government wants to keep that number from growing and choking off the flow of traffic within the city.

Alexandre Hepner, a city planner at architectural firm Arkiz, says that despite the number of skyscrapers, São Paulo’s population density is lower than that of European cities. São Paulo houses 20- or 25-story towers in which each apartment takes up an entire floor and plots that only serve for parking cars. From the European point of view, this trend is disconcerting.

Hepner says it is a good idea to fill up the areas near the metro and bus stations, even though the network is already at full capacity. The city covers 1,500 square kilometers, yet the metro system does not even reach 70 kilometers. Paris is less than one-tenth the size of São Paulo and its metro lines cover 200 kilometers.

In the upper-middle class district of Itaim Bibi, known for its liberal professionals and executives, lies a 20-story tower where the first two floors (in addition to several underground garages) serve as parking lots. It is an eye-catching sight: the cars look as though they “live” there or somehow invaded the floors. This neighborhood and many others are following an urban trend that City Hall wants to eradicate: the growth of condominiums or high-rise apartment buildings where the residents not only have unlimited parking space but also have room for gardens and a pool, all safely tucked away behind enormous iron gates and a security guard. This trend is turning São Paulo into a series of closed-off islands with empty streets where no one walks. People only ride in cars. There are no stores, no restaurants, only those apartment towers with their iron gates.

The government wants to use a series of regulations to open up these structures. In one of its most controversial proposals, the city calls for the number of parking spaces allotted to each family to be regulated in order to encourage the use of public transport and stem the flow of traffic.

City planner Raquel Rolnik supports the proposal to eliminate garages in buildings built near the metro or main bus terminals. She says São Paulo is really a city and a-half because of the number of underground parking lots (most of them privately owned) there are.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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