By Jonas Hagen, reporting contributed by Helena Orenstein
New York, Buenos Aires, and now… São Paulo! Car Free Days are sweeping over the Americas like a brush fire in California. The largest megalopolis in South America, with 20 million residents, is renowned for epic traffic jams and one of the world’s largest helicopter fleets. Beginning a month ago, the city has shown its potential to become more livable and sustainable: thousands of residents have enthusiastically taken to the streets on Car Free Sundays.
The weekly event is called “ciclofaixa” (bikelane); from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. along 5 km of streets in central neighborhoods, connecting two important parks, a traffic lane is dedicated to cyclists. According to São Paulo city government, approximately 10,000 people took to the streets on the day it was launched, 30 of August 2009. After its launch, the Municipality perfected the route made three intersections safer for cyclists by giving this priority over cars.
The initiative represents a successful partnership between the third sector and government. ITDP brought Municipal Sports Secretariat Walter Feldman to Bogotá in 2007 to see the Car Free Sundays there (this is the largest such event in the world, with 121 km of roads closed to cars every week), and contact with Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá and president of ITDP´s board, helped consolidate the car-free event in São Paulo, and ITDP’s team in Brazil and Colombia are now helping the Municipality find ways to expand the successful initiative.
A large bank, Bradesco, supports the event by providing promotional items, such as t-shirts, water, and bags, as well as a website that provides valuable information to potential users.
“ITDP’s help was essential to creating the Car-free Sunday event in São Paulo,” said Secretary Feldman. “Going to Bogotá and seeing what we had always dreamed of there convinced us that we could do such an event in our city. ITDP has become our reference for sustainable transport and we hope to have their assistance as we seek to expand this event – 10 km is very little for the amount of demand we have.”
“São Paulo has been waiting for this for over twenty years. The municipality’s idea is that cars increasingly give up space to bicycles, and there is no better time to begin this process than Sunday mornings,” said Feldman.