By Martin Kocandrle, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The trends of population growth and increased urbanization has put serious pressures on the housing market of Rio de Janeiro. Much of the urban growth of of the city has spread outwards into surrounding areas, while businesses have remained centrally located. The result is cheaper housing on the outskirts, but often nightmarish commutes into the center.
Property prices are increasing throughout Rio de Janeiro, and the elite properties of Zona Sul have become increasingly difficult to afford. This leaves many to search for homes outside of the downtown area in places such as Barra da Tijuca, Jacarepagua and Niteroi.
As with most suburban scenarios, there are benefits to relocating outside of the hectic realms of the city center. The surroundings are calmer, there is often less crime, and you are able to acquire more property for less money.
In Barra da Tijuca, it is possible to find a four bedroom apartment from R$750,000 or an entire house in Niteroi for R$320,000 and R$550,000 in Jacarepagua. In most areas of Zona Sul that price range would put you in the market for a one or two bedroom apartment.
As the suburban areas of the city become more populated though, transportation infrastructure begins to feel the effects. For those living in the aforementioned areas, commuting options are slim as the only form of public transit available is the bus or van taxi. This forces people into cars, swelling the number of vehicles on the road and bottle-necking traffic at crucial points during rush hour traffic.
Most of Rio’s suburbs lie within a thirty to forty kilometer radius of the city however average commuter times can be horrendous. During rush hour a trip that normally takes about 45 minutes can take up to two or three hours.
A resident of Recreio explained that “For me when I leave work at six I arrive home at eight sometimes nine o’clock, if I stay at work until eight I can get more work done and I arrive at home at about the same time, its crazy.”
From Barra da Tijuca, which is located about thirty kilometers from the city center, the average commute is an hour and a half during rush hour, but can be much worse if there is an incident on the road.
Although Niteroi is only located about twenty kilometers from Centro, thirteen kilometers of the commute takes place on the bridge that traverses the bay between the two cities. About 135,000 vehicles and 400,000 people pass over the bridge on a daily basis. Over the recent Friday holiday, it was recorded that around 80,000 cars passed over the bridge heading out for the holidays.
Even though the bridge is a vital aspect of commerce that has provided a link between Niteroi and Rio de Janeiro it is a commuter’s nightmare. In the event of an accident there is little recourse for drivers to avoid a traffic jam. One resident of Niteroi claims, “I spend about two hours of my day on the bus, a trip that should take fifteen minutes takes about fifty.”
Throughout the floods of April 4th and 5th, traffic was brought to a standstill for hours as cars and buses had no choice but to sit in the rain as the water slowly climbed into the interior of standing vehicles.
There is little to hope of alleviating the congestion as a result of suburbanization unless more investment is made to improve transportation infrastructure.
Currently the city plans to extend the metro line to Barra by 2014, but even this plan is flawed. Residents question both the ambitious end date of the project and the logic of extending a subway line that is already running at capacity and will not be able to accommodate more passengers.
There have also been grumblings over adding extra lanes or levels to the bridge of Niteroi but as of now nothing has been decided and all that remains is grumbling.