By Candy Pilar Godoy, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Thoughts of Rio usually conjure images of beautiful beaches, sultry samba steps and tropical fruits, but ask anyone during rush hour and the picture is sure to change. People commuting to and from work, overcrowded public transport, and a maze of honking cars dominate the city, transforming the Cidade Maravilhosa into a living nightmare. Yet however hard it might be to navigate, there are a few ways to ensure an easier commute.
Like most large cities, the flow of traffic is severely hindered during the rush hour commute, when neighborhoods that are generally easy to access become fortresses of congestion. Centro, the downtown daytime bustling Mecca of business, is a prime destination for workers every morning between 6 and 10AM. Yet the area becomes a ghost of itself at night, when people head home and traffic moves in the opposite direction.
“It’s a nightmare,” says one commuter, “getting to Centro from Tijuca in the morning can take twice as long due to traffic.”
Traveling to or from Barra da Tijuca during evening rush hour is especially difficult, as the masses escape the inner-city, head into the outskirts, and clog the roads and highways. Zona Sul (South zone) also poses a problem during both morning and evening, as people trudge in and out to work and party.
Since the number of cars in Rio de Janeiro has grown forty percent in the last decade, it comes as no surprise that traffic congestion is an increasing problem. Law enforcement presence on the road ranges from sporadic to non-existent, and the city suffers from tricky weather conditions (rain and flooding) and narrow streets. Programs of traffic management have increased however, and provided hope for improvement.
Buses, Rio’s main form of public transportation, always run more frequently during rush hour. There are almost 440 municipal bus lines serving over four million passengers each day, in addition to intercity lines. The city plans to implement four rapid transit buses that will connect Rio’s most populous regions, as well as to begin a green initiative for sustainable transport that will use new buses operating on ninety percent compressed natural gas.
Above-ground commuting is not always ideal however, and many choose to head down into the metro subway to save time. Although subway cars tend to be overcrowded, they are able to escape traffic jams and honking cars.
Rio has two subway lines that span over 26 miles and operate at 35 stations, along with several commuter rail lines. Future plans include a third line to Barra da Tijuca and Zona Oeste (West zone), as well as the expansion of Line One, which will allow for a quicker commute and more passengers.
Others hoping to escape traffic can resort to two wheels. There are over ninety miles of bicycle paths crisscrossing the city, mainly along the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema, Flamengo and Lelbon, as well as a path circling Lagoa. An additional ninety miles of path are planned for 2012.
Brazil is no stranger to major traffic congestion. São Paulo once held the record for world’s worst traffic jam when over a quarter of all streets in the city were completely backed up.
In a city where navigating, whether road or rail, can certainly pose a challenge, it’s best to tackle the urban jungle with patience and a smile, and an extra thirty minutes planned.