Bus Rapid Transit (km) 320 | Passengers (per day) 270,000 | Pedestrian Infrastructure (blocks) 1580 | Bike Share bikes 1508| Cycling Infrastructure (km) 108| Commute Time Reduction (%) 18.4
São Paulo, the second city to win the 2014 Sustainable Transport Award, has spent the past few years focused on countering congestion caused by private car ownership. Through strong public support and political will, São Paulo became the first megacity to eliminate parking minimums and replace them with parking maximums citywide. Large improvements have been made to cycling infrastructure with a new kilometer of bike lanes put in every week with the goal of 400km by the end of 2015. Alongside bike expansions, Sao Paulo has expanded bus-only lanes and created a true BRT corridor connecting downtown to southeast region of the city. Improvements have also been made for pedestrians with increases in sidewalk width in transit corridors and a new, simple permit system to encourage the proliferation of parklets around the city.
Biking culture has been growing in Sao Paulo since the early 2000s. Citizen cyclists, bloggers, and photographers helped increase public awareness of cycling culture through Bicicletada (Critical Mass rides) and other creative projects inspired by cycling activists around the world. In 2009 they succeeded in organizing CicloFaixa de Lazer, a weekly car-free streets program that closes five kilometers of central neighborhoods to demonstrate the possibilities of biking around Sao Pualo. The program has been hugely popular and encouraged public support for with 10,000 people attending the first gathering. This helped garner small reforms with a few kilometers of bike lanes and sharrows (shared-lane markings), and it encouraged the creation of a bike sharing system. Also in 2009, the citizen movement gained legitimacy with the establishment of Ciclocidade, a formal NGO that lobbied for local biking reforms.
In the 2012 mayoral election, with strong public pressure, all major candidates signed a pledge to support bicycle-friendly policies and promote new bike infrastructure. After years of political opposition and few improvements, the tide turned and São Paulo began aggressively expanding their cycling network under Mayor Fernando Haddad. The city implemented an incredible 1 km of bike lanes per week in order to meet their goal of 400 km by the end of 2015. Twelve bridges were adapted for biking and 8,000 bike racks were put in around the city along with new bike parking at all bus terminals. The bike sharing program expanded as well with 1,500 bikes at 158 stations around Sao Paulo.
On June 30, 2014 the city council overwhelmingly approved a new, 16-year Strategic Master Plan with radical implications for sustainable development in Sao Paulo. For the first time in the city’s history, bicycling was recognized as a piece of Sao Paulo’s transportation system. In opposition to the city’s car-centric past, the new plan promotes transit-oriented development and housing reforms. Land within 400 m of trains or metro and 200 m of buses is encouraged to be mixed-use and is now zoned for higher density and widened sidewalks. Further, 10% of housing in the area has been dedicated to affordable housing, a good start to ensuring that mass transit is available to all citizens.
The most incredible change included in the Strategic Master Plan was the elimination of parking minimums citywide. Instead, a new parking maximum has been put in place along transit corridors that allows only one space per residential unit (or 70 m2 of non-residential space) and charges for additional spaces. This will help reduce traffic while promoting public transit, improve street life, and encourage compact growth by freeing developers from having to build parking. This removed about 4,000 parking spaces, a reduction in total parking space of about 10%.
Further helping reclaim streets for people and from cars, Sao Paulo has encouraged the creation of parklets. Parklets are small public spaces built on parking space to encourage rest and street life without taking space away from pedestrians. Mayor Fernando Haddad signed legislation in April, 2014 creating specifications, rules, and a permitting process for permanent parklets. The permitting process only takes about five days and ensures that the parklet doesn’t interfere with traffic lights and meets depth, width, and water drainage standards. Most importantly, parklets are always public and accessible space which is important for encouraging an active, equitable street life.
Sao Paulo has set about improving the city’s bus system, too. The bus-only network, started in 2003, has continued to expand with 320 km of bus-only lanes and a 21% increase in average bus speed across the city. A new bus corridor, Expresso Tiradentes, was awarded Silver BRT status by ITDP in 2013. It carries 85,000 passengers a day and connects Sacoma neighborhood in the southeast of Sao Paulo to downtown, decreasing transit time for passengers in the area by 74%. These improvements are estimated to have reduced CO2 emissions by 1.9 tons per day.
Sao Pualo’s path to winning the Sustainable Transit Award in 2014 is a study in the importance of an active and engaged citizenry as much as the astounding speed and breadth of improvements. Over the past 15 years, public interest in biking grew through the work of online activists and artists that spearheaded CicloFaixa and bike sharing programs. This created such a strong movement that bicycle-friendly policies were important parts of all major party mayoral candidates in the 2012 elections. This is best illustrated by a bicycle path in the Butantã neighborhood which was requested for years and formally planned in 2006. After nearly six years of political obstacles and prioritization of other projects in its stead, public support forced the construction of the cycle path.
Public participation was also crucial to the creation of the Strategic Master Plan that removed parking minimums, supported transit-oriented development, and included cycling as part of Sao Paulo’s transportation system. Public engagement easily exceeded established law with 114 public hearings and participation of over 25,000 people. A singular website included all the schedules, data, and other resources to encourage accessible participation. Further, there was an online proposal form, a map, and a draft bill that allowed for comments from citizens. In the end, public participation helped overhaul Sao Paulo’s car-centric past toward a new path of sustainable and equitable development.