Over 700 people filled a packed theater in São Paulo last night for the first stop on the 9-city “Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Mobility” tour with legendary artist and musician, David Byrne, and ITDP.
Activities for the forum started earlier in the day, when a group of around 30 cyclists, including the Secretary for the Environment Eduardo Jorge, led David Byrne on a 9km bike ride that ended at the event venue, on bikes from event organizers Parada Vital.
As cyclists approached the venue, they were greeted by on-street bike parking, set up by the local cycling advocacy group, Ciclocidade, and inside, banners announcing ITDP’s ‘5% for cycling’ campaign flanked the display of David’s Book “Diarios de Bicicleta” in the theatre foyer.
The ex-Talking Heads frontman opened the event, presenting a slideshow of images from his bicycle travels around the world and spoke about the successes (and failures) in sustainable transport he has witnessed. Then, one of São Paulo’s leading cycling activists, Arturo Alcorta kicked off the evening’s discussion, asking panelists if São Paulo is capable of making changes similar to those seen in Byrne’s home of New York City, citing recent improvements in public space and cycle infrastructure in the city. Mr. Alcorta highlighted many examples of incomplete projects in São Paulo, including the bike paths designed by ITDP in collaboration with the city, and ended by challenging the following respondent, Secretary of Transport Marcello Branco, to speak about the real future of mobility in São Paulo.
Secretary Branco, after opening with a quote from Jan Gehl, abandoned his planned presentation and responded to Arturo’s challenge. With unprecedented candor, he admitted that the Sao Paulo traffic engineering company, CET, was created during an era when transportation planning only considered cars, and this car-centric mindset is imbedded in the organization and has been extremely difficult to change. He acknowledged that there is an unequal relationship between cars and bikes in São Paulo and Brazil in general, and that they are working diligently to protect the rights and safety of cyclists, alluding to the creation of exclusive bikeways and on-road dedicated bike lanes. This is a very innovative proposition for São Paulo, as for decades CET has been against any sharing of the roads, as they feared it could cause traffic accidents.
Finally, Urban Theorist and ITDP Brazil Board member Eduardo Vasconcellos, concluded with a commentary on how prioritizing cars over people has lead to more privatized public space in Brazil and exacerbated existing inequalities. He proposed that more awareness raising needs to be done to create the connection between social responsibility and traffic safety. He also proposed lowering the speed limit in cities to 30-40km per hour, in all neighborhoods, not just large roads (as was done recently in SP).
The night ended with questions from the audience, moderated by popular radio host Pauline Chamorro. ITDP Regional Director for Latin America, Bernardo Baranda, commented on the success of the event stating, “São Paulo is beginning to change its bicycle culture not only because of activists’ influence but also due to sentiment within the government. It reminds me of Mexico City five years ago where many doubted that you could seriously increase bike use. All it takes a few good projects to change people’s perception and start a snowball effect towards a more sustainable, bike and people friendly city”.