By Jonas Hagen
The 22nd of September, International Car free Day, came and went, but as in 2009, this year left lasting legacy in the city of Rio de Janeiro. In addition to prohibiting parking in the city center for one day, the municipal government permanently established nine slow speed zones throughout the city, creating safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists.
In addition to the slow-speed zones, pedestrians have received an enormous boost in Lapa, Rio´s most popular zone for nightlife. Since July 2010, a six-block temporary car-free zone is set up every Friday and Saturday from 10 PM to 6 AM, filling to the brim with throngs of people making merry without fear of being run over by cars, spurring urban revitalization in the city´s historic center.
In the 2009 edition of Car Free Day, 70% of the streets in Brazil´s most famous neighborhood, Copacabana, received a speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour. The measure was enthusiastically received by the press and population, and this year, city officials decided to spread the measure to farther flung areas of the city, where incomes are lower and even more trips are made by bicycle and on foot, making the impact of these zones even higher. Also, implementing these zones in low-income areas of the city represented an important act by a municipal government that has historically been accused of favoring middle and upper class areas when distributing city services.
Because vehicle speed is the most important factor for traffic safety (a pedestrian that gets by a car at 30 km/hr has a 95 % chance of surviving, while a pedestrian that gets hit at 60 km/hr has an 80 % chance of dying), establishing slow speed zones is an extremely effective way to promote sustainable transportation modes. Implementing such zones can be an important first step to creating “complete streets,” that include features such as bike lanes, raised intersections, and other traffic-calming infrastructure.
The car-free zone in Lapa has been wildly popular with the residents and tourists that crowd the streets, and business is booming in this historical neighborhood. With the restoration of ornate building facades, the opening of new bars, restaurants and stores in the area, an urban revolution is taking place, fuelled by pedestrian traffic. Encouraged by these results, city officials are planning to implement street designs created in March 2010 in a workshop organized by ITDP and lead by Michael King.