By Jacqueline Torres
“The Marvelous City,” Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, got a little bit more marvelous on World Car Free Day, September 22, 2009, as the municipal government and many residents traded cars for more sustainable transport. Fewer autos on the streets increased mobility throughout the city, as commute times diminished by as much as 40 percent, according to the municipal government. After much preparation by the city and through the support of ITDP and other non-profit organizations in Rio, such as local NGO Transporte Ativo, Car Free Day was a success. Although cars were not directly prohibited from use that day, a strategic plan of banning 510 parking spots in the city center (100 of which are permanently eliminated) effectively reduced car use. In anticipation for increased demand of public transit, the city provided more transport than is regularly offered. In Copacabana, the most famous neighborhood in Brazil, the City established speed limits of 30 kilometers per hour in an effort to stimulate cycling and improve safety for pedestrians.
Besides reducing congestion, air quality improved. The City reported a 15 percent reduction in particulate matter, the main culprit for respiratory illness, in the city center.
Extensive positive media coverage conveyed the message that Rio can improve quality of life by taking cars off city streets. ITDP helped the city organize a press event a week before Carfree Day, helping get the message to the public as well as explaining to journalists how car free events can improve life in the city. The municipal government set the prime example, prohibiting private parking in all of its buildings for the day, with the mayor, Eduardo Paes, bicycling to work. Rio State Governor Sergio Cabral followed suit on an electric bike.