Opinion, By Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This week marks the beginning of the end for Rio traffic. The section of the “perimetral” ring road closest to downtown Rio has now been closed. In preparation for the dismantling of this section, the short tunnel running underneath the Praça XV, called the “mergulhão”, will also be closed.
There’s even worse news for those who choose to drive downtown. Avenida Rio Branco, the main downtown thoroughfare running from the Praça Mauá (where the cruise ships moor) to the Aterro (the four lane expressway to the Zona Sul [South Zone]) will, by February 1st, be closed to all vehicles save buses and taxicabs.
The new and “improved” Rio Branco will have five lanes, three in one direction and two in another. Or perhaps it’s two in each direction for buses, and the middle lane will be for taxis, probably heading to the Praça Mauá. However, taxis will not be allowed to stop on Rio Branco—picking up and dropping off passengers will be verboten!
So, if you live in Zona Sul and work downtown, how do you get to work? The metrô [subway] is the obvious answer, because it covers most of downtown with three stops. Still, it’s a bit of a hoof to some locations. Buses will be better as they all go along Rio Branco which bifurcates the business district. Taxis are still possible because they can turn off Rio Branco at certain locations.
That brings up another problem. Several main streets, including one which was previously closed to all vehicles, have had their directions changed, all in attempt to allow cars, including taxis, to get around downtown, even though they can’t use Rio Branco. This is going to create chaos for pedestrians, who will now have to look in two or perhaps even three directions before crossing a street.
There will be no parking allowed on any of these newly re-directed streets, which means a drop of over 1000 parking spaces. Great news for the paid parking garages, which will doubtless double their prices, but bad news for the bureaucrats working for government agencies, many of whom have long had official cars and parking spaces designated for them downtown.
Did we mention street parking? Last week saw the city government announce it was going to put out bids for parking meters, apparently to be operated by chips or some other technological marvel, rather than coin meters or, as is the case today, an army of “flanelinhas” an illegal substratum of urban society who park people’s cars and/or watch over them—if you pay. If you don’t, your paintwork may need fixing.
This saga will be continued sometime next year, when almost all of Av. Rio Branco will be closed to all vehicular traffic. From Av. Presidente Vargas (the other main drag downtown to the Aterro, only pedestrians (or perhaps bicyclists) will be allowed. Where will the taxis and buses now cruising Rio Branco go when that happens? No one knows.
The Curmudgeon salutes this initiative. He has long been in favor of simply shutting down ALL of downtown to passenger cars, be they privately owned or bureaucratic perks. The city government has made a good start towards this eventual end.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)