Today, more than half of Brazilians are under the age of 20, and more than 10 percent are over 65. In Brazil as in much of the world, these groups are some of the most reliant on public transportation, but the least likely to have a voice in the planning process. Brazilian cities have a long history of innovation in transport, including the invention of bus rapid transit in Curitiba. Today, cities such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Fortaleza have robust transit systems, quality bike lanes, and inviting urban public spaces. Yet, these cities remain inaccessible for many of their residents, as public transit growth has not kept pace with city growth, and there is a lack of planning for vulnerable populations. ITDP Brazil is working to change this by engaging these groups at the early planning stages of new transport projects.
ITDP Brazil, in partnership with the São Paulo Metropolitan Transit Agency (EMTU), began this process by conducting a survey of youth and elderly participants to better understand their needs in planning a BRT corridor in their São Paulo neighborhood. While this survey sought to address significant challenges, the survey itself was easy to perform and resulted with positive engagement from the community. Not only were the survey’s conclusions insightful and possible to replicate, so too was the process of engagement with the community members.
The survey concerned a planned BRT corridor along Jacu-Pêssego Avenue, a wide, busy street known for its many traffic fatalities in a dense, low income neighborhood. The survey was taken by a group of youth and elderly who attended a Unified Educational Complex (CEU), a complex that provides community members with daily, educational programs. The interest group of youth and elderly represented the ethnic and economic diversity of the neighborhood. The participants took walks around the facility to observe the obstacles in reaching the stations and reported on their findings. Their findings are being used by the metropolitan agency to develop safer and inclusive transit access and the process has shown the value of engaging with communities in projects.
“This effort is one of the first attempts from the São Paulo metropolitan transit agency to engage vulnerable groups in the planning of BRT corridors, and while we’re yet to see what impact it will really have, the engagement was, by itself, already a big step in the right direction,” says Beatriz Rodrigues, Public Transport Coordinator of ITDP Brazil. “It was really eye-opening to see how much these two groups have in common in terms of their concerns about transport access, and it was very clear to us, and to the city, that this is a valuable exercise.”
The challenges in transit access disproportionately affect elders and children for a variety of reasons. First, elderly people are often on one side of a caretaking role – that of a caretaker or that of someone who is cared for. Furthermore, elderly people are more often disabled as compared to any other age demographic. Children are in uniquely vulnerable positions because their age prevents them access to many forms of transportation – if they are not walking or riding bicycles, they are relegated to being passengers are they are unable to drive themselves. Both elderly and children are generally fragile financially so they tend to be most reliant on low cost public transportation or walking, making them most affected by poor design or dangerous access points for public transportation.
Conclusions & General Recommendations
One major conclusion was that popular above ground passages – foot bridges that are elevated over roads to allow for easy vehicle passage – are less safe and accessible for pedestrians. These passing bridges are often poorly maintained and steep, making them difficult to pass. They are also more expensive to build and maintain. Therefore, it is recommended to create at-road passings for pedestrians. The survey offered additional recommendations including:
- More frequent at road crossings – double the number of crossings (from three to six) so that there is a pedestrian crosswalk every 200 km along the BRT corridor route. This is important in helping groups that cannot walk long distances from having to travel on foot for too long.
- Identify dangerous areas and deploy speed reduction measures like radii and better intersections to create a safer walking environment for pedestrians. Traffic incidents affects all groups, but for those who are generally slower, smaller, or both, they are important features in safety.
- Improve bicycle and intermodal access to stations so that all users can easily access BRT. Many children travel by bicycle so having improved access gives them a particular boost.
- Promote TOD Standards in building around stations – with high density and mix land use around the stations there will be natural urban planning that would support pedestrians and make for a pleasant urban environment. This is an example of a policy that allows for a safe environment for vulnerable groups but simultaneously creates improved design and quality of life for non-vulnerable groups.
Why is this significant?
This survey provided clear policy prescriptions to benefit vulnerable groups and expand necessary access to transportation modes. By thoughtfully designing stations with improved access, the city is providing crucial access to the groups who benefit most. Furthermore, this process engaged with the community in a positive way allowing for public discourse and a sense of community buy-in that was low cost and easy to execute. The conclusions – and the method of reaching them – are both easy and important to replicate in other cities and for other projects.