Thinking ahead

2009-01-05 00:00

In 1972, the city of Curitiba — the largest city in southern Brazil — paved the main business street in its city centre to create a social space that could only be used by pedestrians. After an initial outcry against the move, Curitibians have come to love this pedestrian area so much so that 95% of voters supported keeping the area paved in a recent ballot on the issue.

Curitiba has since converted 52 roads into paved pedestrian-only areas. Pedestrian zones give city spaces back to the people who use them. Pedestrians no longer have to compete with cars when moving around. They can walk around the area safely and freely. The paved spaces are also used to host craft and other markets, providing a relaxed outdoor retail experience for Curitibians and tourists. And they are regularly used for special events such as outdoor music concerts and health programmes (such as vaccine campaigns).

Paved pedestrian zones are just one of many initiatives in Curitiba that reflect respect and care for pedestrians. Another important feature of Curitiba that promotes pedestrian use of the city is its high-density, mixed-use corridors. These corridors are lined with high-rise buildings that have shops and other businesses on the first two floors of the buildings and residential apartments on the upper floors. The first two floors have to be set back further from the road than the upper floors, creating a wide covered pavement that provides shelter from the frequent rain. These areas also promote pedestrian use as residents can access many shops and services in close proximity to their homes.

In addition to its support of pedestrians, the city also prioritises users of public transport. Curitiba has a world-renowned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System. Whereas most cities with effective public transit systems have subways or light rail systems, Curitiba has designed its bus-based transport system to include many of the features that make subways popular with public transit users. Some key features of the Curitiba BRT:

• Dedicated roads for public buses. This means that buses do not compete with private transport and can move quickly between stops. In addition to dedicated bus roads, there are also dedicated bus lanes that assist in keeping public buses moving quickly.

• A pre-embarkation system where users pay for tickets in advance and wait in a dedicated raised space for the bus to arrive. Because the pre-embarkation space is raised, users can walk directly on to the bus without walking up steps. In traditional bus systems users have to climb steps and pay for tickets only once the bus arrives. This causes a delay and slows the entire trip for all passengers.

• Integration terminals that link bus routes. On arrival in the integration terminal, users can transfer to another bus without paying for a new ticket. Integration terminals often include a shopping area within the terminal. Integration terminals are controlled spaces as people can only enter them if they pay for a bus ticket. As a result, integration terminals are safe spaces for shopping and waiting for transfers.

The BRT is also complemented by the high-density zones discussed above. The dedicated bus lanes of the BRT system run alongside the high-density zones. This has ensured that there are sufficient users of BRT to make the system financially viable. Currently, the city of Curitiba raises sufficient funds through the ticket sales to pay for the operation and maintenance of the BRT system.

Citizen streets

Curitiba has built “citizen streets” in each of its nine city regions. Citizen streets include offices of the major government services that Curitibians may want to access on a regular basis. Typical services offered by citizen streets are registering for lights and water services, building permits, unemployment insurance, libraries, bus passes and identity documents. Not all citizen streets offer the same services. In addition to government departments, citizen streets include commercial shops, meeting spaces for community meetings and government consultation meetings and an indoor football pitch. To make citizen streets as accessible as possible, they have been located next to integration terminals of the BRT.

Municipal Recycling

All Curitibians are expected to separate their waste into three basic categories.

• Organic waste.

• Recyclable waste — bigger waste generators such as shopping malls and companies are expected to separate the following categories: metal, paper, plastic and glass. But individuals don’t have to separate the different recyclables from each other.

• Toxic waste.

Organic waste is collected upward of three times a week in outlying areas and daily in closer areas. The same municipal waste collection service is then used for a separate collection of recyclable waste which generally takes place two to three times a week. Toxic waste is collected monthly on designated dates at the major bus terminals.

The municipality has a factory where the recyclable waste is separated and then sold. On a monthly basis the municipality raises between R270 000 and R310 000. The money raised from the recycling programme is used specifically to pay for social projects within the city.

After the initiation of the recycling system Curitiba had a programme to assist individual waste pickers who make a living from collecting recyclables. Through this programme, the waste pickers were provided with customised trolleys to collect waste and given education on road rules and waste-picking etiquette. The city encourages waste pickers to pick up recyclables before the municipal trucks drive through the area. As a result of the formal separation of waste, waste pickers were able to increase their collection rates and improve their livelihoods. About 4 000 waste-pickers operate in Curitiba.

The main reasons why Curitiba implemented this recycling system in 1989 were:

• to reduce the amount of rubbish placed in its landfill site;

• to reduce the amount of pollutants entering the environment;

• to save on natural resources that would have to be used for making products that can now be used from recycled material;

• to increase community awareness of recycling; and

• to create jobs for less-skilled communities.

Green Exchange

In 1991, Curitiba initiated an additional programme called the Green Exchange which involved exchange recyclables for food. As part of this programme, municipal waste collection trucks regularly visit high-density poor areas at designated times. These trucks are accompanied by food trucks. For each four kilograms of recyclable material handed into the waste truck, one kilogram of food is exchanged. Generally, the food is fresh vegetables and fruit sourced from local farmers. The purpose of the programme is to:

• increase the collection of recyclable material from high-density poor areas which can be difficult to service because of narrow roads;

• provide an injection of healthy food into poor communities (the Green Exchange programme has a recipe book that provides recipes for the food exchanged);

• support local farmers by buying up their leftover produce.

• Margaret McKenzie is the local project officer for Imagine Durban — a long-term planning project that is a joint initiative of the eThekwini Municipality and the Partners for Long-term Urban Sustainability (Plus) Network. McKenzie and the head of eThekwini’s planning unit visited Curitiba to attend the Plus Network’s Public Transportation Workshop held in December 2007.

Some stats from Curitiba

Total population: 1,8 million

Total number of traffic accidents in 2005: 24 930

Total number of pedestrian accidents in 2005: 1 074

The current modal split of Curitiba is:

Bus — 45%

Cars — 23%

Motorbikes — five percent

Bicycles — five percent

Pedestrians — 21%

Other — one percent

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