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Sunday , 14 July 2024

“Complete Streets” are Creating Safer, more Sustainable Cities in Brazil

An intersection on João Alfredo Street in Porto Alegre, Brazil: Photo by Bruno Batista/WRI Brasil

Urban development in many cities around the world prioritizes making space for cars over pedestrians, cyclists or public transportation. In Brazil, this led to an average of more than 30,000 annual road crash fatalities nationwide by the turn of the century, as well as high levels of congestion and pollution. But  in  the last 20 years, fatalities have started to decrease, and city centres have become more vibrant, cleaner and resilient.  At the heart of these changes is implementation of the “Complete Streets” concept.

Many local governments aim to reduce traffic crashes only by changing drivers’ and passengers’ behaviors through things like seatbelt- and helmet-wearing campaigns. This approach puts the onus on individuals rather than the city to make streets safer. Complete Streets changes the paradigm, emphasizing the creation (or redesign) of streets that are safe, accessible and enjoyable for individuals of all ages and abilities.

By providing infrastructure such as bike lanes, broader sidewalks, benches and green spaces, Complete Streets encourages active modes of transportation and reduces dependency on private vehicles. It’s also a good strategy for implementing traffic calming measures that reduce car speeds, thus improving road safety.

WRI Brasil worked with Brazil’s National Front of Mayors, Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety and many other partners to support the implementation of 28 different Complete Street projects throughout the country in the last five years.  Taken here is one  case study that illustrates these transformations:

João Alfredo Street, Porto Alegre: Creating a Livable Space

With scarce road signage, narrow sidewalks and numerous car crashes, João Alfredo Street wasn’t any different from other streets in the central area of Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. In 2019, the street received a complete redesign. The goal was to make the mixed-use street safer and more welcoming during the day for hundreds of school children, and at night for the many people who enjoyed going out to restaurants and nightclubs.

The transformation was done in several stages. First, the city painted and installed curb extensions and roundabouts and existing ones were redesigned. The curb extensions shortened the distances for crossing the street, while roundabouts reduced speed in the intersections.

Additional crossing lanes for pedestrians were also painted by the city and the posted speed limit was reduced from 40km  per hour  to 30km, an important change especially for improving the safety of children and the elderly.

On the following stages, new street furniture was installed with vegetation, including litter bins and benches made by alumni from a social project in the neighbourhood. The street was made safer by design. Spaces where people once passed by became places for socialization and rest for individuals and groups.

Between 2016 and 2017, before the redesign, 60 crashes were reported on the street, with a total of 18 injured and one death. After the new infrastructure was installed, between 2020 and 2022, the number of crashes dropped to 26 (-56%), and the number of injured fell to 7 (-61%), with no fatalities, according to the city records.

Challenges for Complete Streets Implementation

Although Complete Streets often receives a lot of acceptance after implementation, that’s not always the case when new projects are announced. Common opponents include drivers who want  as much road space as possible, business owners fearful about the loss of parking spaces and also  politicians & decision makers who are afraid of losing votes.

Also, being holistic, Complete Streets projects tend to rely on budget and decisions from multiple city departments, such as Transport, Mobility, Environment and Public Works. However,  this provides an opportunity for a  shift in urban planning that promotes other important solutions, such as transport-oriented development and the adoption of nature-based solutions for climate adaptation.

Source: WRI

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