December 01, 2005

Latin America Update

2005 has witnessed the initiation of a range of significant sustainable transport projects in Latin America.

Mexico and Central America

Metrobus, Mexico City’s Bus Rapid Transit system on the highly congested Insurgentes Avenue, was launched in June 2005 and, despite some operational struggles at the beginning, has improved its operations in subsequent months. ITDP provided technical assistance to Metrobus on pedestrian and bicycle integration, and operations management training was provided by the landmark TransMilenio Bus Rapid Transit system in Bogotá.

However, public investment in costly double-decker highways for cars continues in Mexico City, and the new mayor, Alejandro Encinas, is debating whether to expand the Metrobus system.

Beyond Mexico City, the Optibus BRT in León has overcome the challenges that surfaced during its first two years of operation and is currently moving 220,000 passengers a day. ITDP will be working with Optibus to develop a financing plan for the system’s expansion.

Plans for the BRT system in the State of Mexico were halted, but following a visit to Bogotá and a meeting with former mayor Enrique Peñalosa, the new governor, Enrique Peña, indicated that the project will be continued as a high priority for his six-year mandate.

Other cities in Mexico that are actively planning or interested in implementing Bus Rapid Transit systems are Querétaro, Aguascalientes, Chihuahua, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla and Torreón.

In Central America, as a result of Enrique Peñalosa’s guidance, the Dominican Republic and the city government of Santo Domingo have shelved their subway project, and are considering a more affordable, appropriately designed system. In Panama City, the debate continues about implementing a light rail or bus rapid transit system even though the financial analysis shows that under a reasonable fare structure a light rail system would be too expensive to operate.

In Guatemala City, a BRT project has been green lighted and the city is enjoying new sidewalks in an effort to create more pedestrian-friendly spaces.

South America

Besides Bogotá’s TransMilenio expansion, four Colombian cities (Barranquilla, Cali, Cartagena and Pereira) are in the construction stage or will be starting construction in 2005, and three more (Bucaramanga, Medellín and Soacha) will start building the infrastructure in 2006.

ITDP is working on the TransCaribe BRT in Cartagena thanks to a Global Environmental Facility (GEF) grant through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). ITDP is supporting the project in three key aspects – operational design, institutional capacity bu ilding and public space and bike integration to the system.

In Ecuador, Quito, with its trolley bus and its integration with the new BRT corridor Ecovía, continues to be a model for other developing country cities. Guayaquil will start operating its BRT in February 2006. Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot is also developing projects that include a beautiful walkway along the waterfront, public space recuperation and urban revitalization in poor neighborhoods.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil a pilot project funded by a GEF grant through the World Bank aims to reduce greenhouse emissions from urban transport and to promote a modal shift to more efficient and less polluting forms of transport, such as bicycling. ITDP is part of the team working on the bicycle network. ITDP will also be assisting in addressing problems resulting from competition among pedestrians, street vendors, and car traffic in the Celso García corridor.

A new entity has been created, SUSTRAN LAC (Sustainable Transport for Latin America and the Caribbean), an NGO that encourages mutual cooperation among the different organizations in the region. SUSTRAN LAC is supported by a consortium of NGOs that include ITDP, I-CE (the Netherlands), and GTZ (Germany). The official launch will take place during Velo Mondial 2006 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Latin America is growing rapidly and there is a great opportunity for its cities to become more environmentally sustainable and socially equitable. However, authorities should pay closer attention to the suburban development that continues at a brisk pace and represents a significant threat to the sustainability of cities across the region.

This suburban growth is facilitated by highway construction, and many Latin American cities continue to build urban highways in an attempt to reduce congestion. If left unchecked, this process could result in a disastrous long-term trend of continued auto emissions, traffic fatalities, and the social disintegration of communities.

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