Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon has occasionally ventured into futurology, and on the eve (or so we are told by City Hall) of the official inauguration of the VLT (the Very Light Tram) he will predict the following. If you’re an optimist, don’t read any further.
Prediction the first: There will be gridlock! The VLT will traverse the length of Av. Rio Branco, once named Av. Central, which still is its most accurate description, as the entire business district of Rio is located within a 5 minute walk from the boulevard. To cross the avenue, though, buses and taxis and private cars must now cross the tramlines. When doing so, they will knowingly and purposefully block the traffic coming at them, including the VLT.
They do that now, despite the city having painted yellow cross-hatches on spaces where vehicles ought NOT to stop, but they do. Why would they change their ways? Just because of some cute little silver thingy with a cute little ding-ding-ding bell sound? Surely you jest!
Prediction the Second: There will be camelôs! The entire length of Av. Rio Branco is already infested with tatterdemalion hawkers selling “irregular” (meaning contraband or stolen) candy bars, battery chargers, electric fly swatters, pen drives and of course, when it rains, umbrellas. Particularly hard hit will be the new “Passeio Público” or “Public Promenade” along Museum Mile from Av. Nilo Peçanha out to Cinelândia. The authorities, needless to say, will not even attempt to prevent this form of assault upon innocent passers-by.
Prediction the Third: There will be vagrants! The plan for the Public Promenade includes park benches, and flower beds, which are much more pleasant sleeping conditions for homeless than sidewalks outside public buildings—after all, when it rains, your cardboard boxes don’t get wet. Needless to say, the authorities will continue to do nothing about this problem.
Prediction the Fourth: There will be theft! Pedestrian-only areas theoretically mean no vehicles—not even police vehicles. There aren’t enough foot soldiers to police the promenade, so the pickpockets and purse snatchers will be given a license to steal, and a huge area in which to flee from their victims, without being run down by a bus or truck, or chased by the police.
Prediction the Worst: There will be blood! Rio pedestrians didn’t look where they were walking even before the dawn of cellphones. They’d look sideways at shop windows or hawkers’ stalls, while still walking more or less straight ahead. Nowadays, eyes fixed firmly on the game they’re playing or the gossip the gossip they’re reading while crossing the street, they pay no attention to other pedestrians, or delivery bicycles or even cars, buses and trucks. They’re not going to pay any attention to the VLT either, probably figuring that the ding-a-ling they hear is someone else’s cell phone ring tone.
Prediction the last: Before the Paralympic Games finish, some pedestrian will be gravely injured or killed by a VLT—and it will not be the fault of the VLT operator.
The Curmudgeon, who had really looked forward to the inauguration of the VLT and the Public Promenade, is now not quite so sure he wants to go there.