By Anna Bray Sharpin, ITDP Brazil
On Sunday the world watched as London’s Mayor Boris Johnson handed over the Olympic flag to IOC President Jacques Rogge who then presented it to Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes in one of the centerpiece moments of the 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony. The following eight minutes of “mini carnival” gave us a taste of the exuberance and fanfare we can expect from the Brazilian city in 2016. Yet some are questioning Rio’s ability to successfully host the games, and their concerns are largely transport-related.
During the recent United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, more than 110,000 visitors to Rio de Janeiro spent hours stuck in traffic jams between the official venue in the Southwest’s Barra da Tijuca and the concentration of hotels and other events in the South and Center of the city. The congestion was near constant, and even caused some high level speakers to miss their engagements. This reinforced concerns about Rio’s ability to cope during their hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2014, and of course, the Olympic games in 2016. Fortunately, as the first phase in Rio’s ambitious transportation plan gets up and running, the city is beginning to show that it has the time, vision and commitment necessary to turn things around.
In June, Rio took a massive step forward by integrating it’s first full-feature bus rapid transit corridor, Ligeirão Transoeste. By 2016, Transoeste will form part of a network of 143km of BRT across four lines, linking all zones of the city, including the City Center, international airport and domestic airport. It will integrate with the subway and commuter train, as well as with the light rail circuit planned for the Port of Rio area, part of a key urban regeneration legacy project tied to the Olympics.
Ligeirão Transoeste represents the first step in a series of dramatic urban transport interventions in Rio. According to Rio’s Municipal Deputy Secretary of Transport, Carlos Maiolino, the City is investing in the construction of four BRT corridors, “not only to address the increase in passenger demand during the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, but primarily in order to leave a consistent legacy in the area of urban mobility for the population.”
There is still a long way to go for Rio’s transport system to reach its full potential. Yet the successful implementation of the Transoeste shows that Rio is making genuine progress in taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the World Cup and the Olympics to address the pressing transport needs of its population, and to ensure that the benefits to its citizens last well beyond the games.