How the Brazilian city of Fortaleza became a role model for urban transportation

. Jun 29, 2018
How Brazilian city of Fortaleza became a role model for urban transportation Fortaleza revolutionize its transportation system
How Brazilian city of Fortaleza became a role model for urban transportation

Fortaleza revolutionize its transportation system

Among the many obstacles that make life difficult in Latin American metropoles, urban mobility is certainly near the top of that list. Problems with transport are constantly cited as barriers to economic, social, and environmental development. A 2015 study shows how the continent relies so heavily on cars for individual transportation, calling it “an inefficient and polluting” mode of transport.

Fortaleza, the beachfront capital city of the state of Ceará, was a mainstay on international lists of cities haunted by traffic jams. According to a global ranking by Dutch GPS company TomTom, in 2017 Fortaleza had the fourth worst traffic in Brazil – and 35th in the world. Drivers take 35 percent more time to reach their destinations due to congested roads.

But Fortaleza is doing its part to reduce traffic and the pollution caused by cars, trying to nudge the population towards buses and bike lanes instead. In 2014, the city launched a bike share system and built 108 kilometers of priority bus lanes and 225 kilometers of cycling routes.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These initiatives were coupled with reduced speed limits, narrowed roads, elevated pedestrian crossings and campaigns to encourage motorcycle drivers to wear safety equipment. In the span of three years, traffic-related deaths dropped by 35 percent to the lowest in 15 years, after peaking at almost 400 total deaths in 2014.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Now, the city&#8217;s efforts have been awarded a Sustainable Transport Award by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a New York-based think tank. “Fortaleza has taken the right approach to transport, which is one that moves away from private cars to one that prioritizes and integrates pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport users,” said Michael Kodransky, from the think tank.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The committee declared it was &#8220;particularly impressed&#8221; with how easily replicable the initiatives created in Fortaleza are, as most are based on low-investment actions, partnerships with private actors, and pilot projects to collect data that will orient policymaking.</span></p> <h3>Stimulating public transportation</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Between 2004 and 2015, the number of vehicles in Fortaleza rose by 226 percent, thanks in part to stimulus packages given by the federal government to the auto industry which lowered car prices in Brazil. Between 2010 and 2015, Fortaleza&#8217;s population grew by 5.7 percent, while its fleet of cars increased by over 40 percent. For three-quarters of the city&#8217;s residents, traffic was the biggest problem they faced every day.</span></p> <div id="attachment_5437" style="width: 1034px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-5437" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-5437" src="" alt="Bike sharing system in Fortaleza" width="1024" height="602" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1600w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><p id="caption-attachment-5437" class="wp-caption-text">Bike sharing system in Fortaleza</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 2014, the municipal government decided to launch a plan of short-term actions to tackle the traffic issue, with the support of consultancy firm McKinsey and engineers issued from the Federal University of Ceará. The group&#8217;s focus was on actions that demanded low investments and were paradigm-changing &#8211; all the while generating evident changes that would be noticed by society.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The urban mobility plan was based on three major axes: public transportation as a priority, incentives to alternative transport modes (such as bicycles), and reducing traffic-related deaths.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The municipal administration created a single pass for transportation services (including the bike sharing services) and revamped terminals and bus stops. Roughly 20 percent of buses were also equipped with wi-fi networks and air conditioning &#8211; a much-needed comfort in a city where temperatures rarely go below 25</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">o</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">C.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Fortaleza also created four bike sharing services &#8211; for kids, companies, bus users, and occasional users. The cycle path network was expanded by 240 percent over the past five years, and the service is operated through an engaging app &#8211; with a history of routes, the amount of burned calories per route, a GPS service, and client support services through WhatsApp Messenger, by far the most popular app in Brazil. Soon, the bikes will be available on the outskirts of Fortaleza as well.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The beachfront capital also has a car-sharing app of its own, called VAMO. It was launched in July 2016 and now has 20 electric cars in the city, spread across 12 stations. Using the car for 30 minutes costs BRL 15. Six-hour rentals reach BRL 100.</span></p> <h3>Actions are not immune to criticism</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the urban mobility plan has earned much praise, it has also attracted its critics. Experts claim that the city municipality doesn&#8217;t do enough to enforce inspection and fine drivers who disrespect the traffic code. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The reason for such laxity is a political calculation &#8211; the political group in power doesn&#8217;t want to be associated with an instrument as unpopular as traffic tickets. In São Paulo, for instance, the so-called &#8220;traffic-fine industry&#8221; was a major talking point during the 2016 municipal election. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There is also the delay in the conclusion of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system &#8211; which was supposed to be built for the <a href="">2014 World Cup</a>. Four years later, with the <a href="">2018 edition</a> of the tournament halfway done, Fortaleza still has no operating BRT. The mayor&#8217;s office sees, unsurprisingly, the glass half-full. It declared:  &#8220;We can&#8217;t say that everything is perfect. But we can say that we have improved.&#8221;

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