Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon’s not usually complimentary to Rio politicians, but … Hey! It’s a brand New Year. The politician to be praised is Rio’s Prefeito Eduardo Paes; the reason for this paean is his successful campaign to turn Rio traffic into something resembling civilization.

The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

We admit that some of Hizzoner’s former ideas about Rio traffic have seemed a bit bizarre—for instance: (a) banning all motor vehicles from Avenida Rio Branco and turning it into a pedestrian causeway; and (b) trying to convince people to ride their bicycles to work when it’s 40º (Celsius) in the shade. But we digress.

As happened with favela pacification, traffic pacification focused first on the Zona Sul. The game changer was the implanting of a BRS (“Bus Rapid Service”) system in Copacabana. There are four major features of BRS, the first being dedicated bus lanes—the two right hand lanes of the principal arteries are available only for regular city bus lines and taxis with passengers—no chartered condo buses, no vans, no delivery trucks.

The second feature is bus stops at fixed locations where buses must drop off or pick up passengers, rather than stopping anywhere they want. The third is decimating the number of buses that ply those routes. The fourth is enforcing the no parking or stopping rules for the left hand lanes, where vehicles other than buses can go.

These simple and logical changes ended the furious battles for position among vast numbers of mostly empty buses and crowded vans with youths hanging out their doors, racing along, swerving in and out of lanes, three and four abreast, trolling for elusive passengers.

The BRS system, introduced a year ago, worked like a charm within a fairly short period of time. Once people get used to a semblance of orderliness, they love it. Hizzoner did the right thing and extended the system to Ipanema, then to Leblon, both of which had suffered from the same malady. And in 2012, to the Curmudgeon’s delight, BRS has come downtown.

Avenida Rio Branco, before BRS, was more chaotic than the Zona Sul arteries. Not only did it have the usual unseemly clutter, but also bus lines from the suburbs, and (worse yet) the chartered buses so beloved of those masochists who live in Barra da Tijuca but still come to work downtown. Once the buses from Barra and the ‘burbs were banned, and taxis could only stop on the left hand side of the street, a miracle happened! Traffic jams simply disappeared from Av. Rio Branco.

We almost forgot one very important detail. While re-ordering public transportation, Mayor Paes also began to civilize the disaster that is called on-street parking, not only in Zona Sul, but also downtown. Cariocas who drive pretend to believe they have the right to park (or double park) anywhere on any public street, or on the sidewalk if there are no spaces available. They don’t have that right, and Hizzoner is trying to educate them. It’s a hard slog, but the Curmudgeon wishes him well.

What’s the next stop for civilized traffic? Av. Presidente Vargas. Bring it on!

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus 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!)



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