BRT Length (km) 39 | Passengers (per day) 270,000 | Bike Share bikes 600 | Cycling Infrastructure (km) 40.87 | Commute Time Reduction (%) 65
In recent years, Rio de Janeiro has massively invested in public transportation. In 2014, the city received a Sustainable Transport Award for its second of four BRT systems, Transcarioca. The corridor crosses dense and well-established areas with a historical deficit of quality public transportation. Serving 27 neighborhoods, Transcarioca has 47 stations and spans 39 km of segregated roads integrating metropolitan rail systems, subways, Rio’s first BRT system, TransOeste, and most notably connects with the International Airport located on an island in Guanabara Bay to provide easier access to many areas in Rio de Janeiro.
Among the notable accomplishments of Rio over the last few years is a focus on providing quality public transportation to low-income residents. Of the riders on the new bus rapid transit system, 64% are below twice the minimum wage. The first built BRT corridor, Transcarioca, served 27 neighborhoods, the majority of which are composed of middle and low-income housing. The second corridor built, Transoeste saves people an average of 40 minutes per trip. While this is impressive in and of itself, it has helped even out the average commute time between higher and lower income peoples. Low-income peoples commute times have been reduced from nine to only four minutes above the average commute time and only nine minutes longer than the commute time of the highest income Rio residents. More than just helping with commuting, BRT has increased mobility and access to the city with 20% of BRT riders reporting new trips thanks to the BRT lines. In Rio, the Porto Maravilla project (to be completed by 2026) will house 70,000 new residents within only 1 km of public transit. This new focus on transit accessibility goes beyond the city housing projects, the national public housing program Minha Casa Minha Vida is actively working to create indicators measuring the connection of housing to local transportation. These trends in Rio, and Brazil as a whole, show real effort to improve equitability and mobility throughout Brazil.
Further efforts include addressing the non-motorized transport (NMT) and environmental injustices across the city. In 2009, with a car-free streets day, the city permanently reduced the speed limit on 70% of streets in the famous Copacabana neighborhood. This improvement in pedestrian safety was met with such wide-spread support that in 2010, on the annual car-free streets day, the speed limit was permanently reduced in nine zones throughout the city. The Lapa district, a popular neighborhood for nightlife, is in the process of widening the sidewalks of its main streets for pedestrians and cafes. Further, local plazas are to be redesigned and bicycle lanes added to further increase sociability and mobility around the district. Since July of 2010, the district has closed a main 6-block area off to cars entirely for Friday and Saturday nights. Far away, in Rio’s poorer North Zone, the city built the city’s third largest park in 2012. The new park incorporates impressive rainwater catchment and irrigation as well, LED lighting systems, 432 native trees, and 52,000 seedlings. All of these are impressive efforts in a park, but most importantly this park is open to the disadvantaged people in the North Zone. The surrounding neighborhood is covered by concrete and asphalt over 98% of its area. The park offers a refuge from this and is 5 degrees Celsius cooler than the neighborhood surrounding it.
Biking has been part of Rio de Janeiro before the recent changes to biking infrastructure. In 1991, a bikeway was built in Copacabana, but it was poorly connected to the rest of the city. In 2009, the city put in sharrows (shared car and bike roads) connecting the metro line to the bikeway. At the same time, they opened a new bike sharing system with 8 stations and 80 bikes in Copacabana. This bike sharing system, originally called SAMBA but now BiciRio, expanded over the next few years with a doubling of stations and bikes in 2012. Now, there are 60 stations with 600 bikes across Rio.
In 2012, the city built 300 km of new bike lanes and released the first official bike map to promote access to the city’s expanding bike opportunities. Bike parking expanded, too with 3,300 new spaces at three metro stations in 2012 and another 1,300 parking spaces added around the city in 2013. These improvements to intermodal transit continued with bike racks at the new BRT stations. Pingo D’Agua station alone, located in the poorer West Zone, added 600 bike parking spaces. The West Zone has the longest bike route at 225.8 km and is estimated to contain 55% of the 1.5 million daily bike trips in Rio. Thus, connecting bike transit to public transportation is especially important for increasing the mobility and access of the population there. After years of working on bike lanes across the city, 3.3 km of bike lanes were finally built downtown in 2014 that connect the metro, North Zone, and South Zone further increasing mobility and addressing the “last mile problem” in downtown. The city continued adding bike lanes and achieved their goal of reaching 450km of bike lanes by 2015.
Rio’s first of four BRT corridor, Transoeste, opened in 2012 covering 56 km with 53 stations and a Gold Standard rating from ITDP. It carries about 100,000 passengers per day, 15% of whom did not take the bus previously, and saves people an average of 40 minutes per trip. It is 62% faster than the normal bus service and saves 107,000 tons of CO2 and 6 tons of particulate matter per year. Importantly, Transoeste was popular with residents; 82% of the public saw public transit as improved after the introduction of the first BRT corridor. Public opinion and convenience is expected to improve, and ridership to double, after new intermodal stations are built in 2016 to connect BRT and subway stops.
Two years later, in 2014, the Gold Standard corridor Transcarioca opened with 45 stations and 5 terminal stations over 39 kilometers. This corridor links the airport to the residential part of the city serving an estimated 270,000 trips per day with a projected increase to 320,000 in the coming years. The stations have platform-level boarding and dedicated lanes that have helped reduce travel time by 65% during rush hour and a 35% decrease of travel times on average. There has been a 56% reduction in transfers due to the new corridor and 90% of people report that travel expenses decreased or stayed the same. Though there was only a 4% modal shift from cars to BRT, those that switched saved 10% on time commuting. Transcarioca also saw the introduction of better outreach from the city itself. Before the corridor opened, a character called The Explainer was introduced through Youtube videos, newspaper ads, and ads in the bus system to ensure people were prepared with how Transcarioca would run. The Explainer was so successful that the city has kept the character going to spread awareness of other traffic projects around Rio.
Rio de Janeiro’s recent improvements in transportation infrastructure, from biking and pedestrian spaces to new Gold Standard BRT corridors, is suitably impressive. Most important, though, it demonstrates the benefits of connecting high density areas around the city with transit. Transoeste and Transcarioca improve mobility and decrease commuting times which is especially beneficial to the low-income residents in the North and West Zones of the city. Beyond that, the system is well-integrated with bicycle infrastructure improving access to BRT and is soon to integrate with the metro system. Improving the connection to extant mass transit systems, like the metro, will help increase ridership and ensure easier access to more of the city beyond the BRT corridors.