By Mario Duran
The city of Rio de Janeiro will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Also, the city will host other mega-events including the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2013 Catholic World Youth Day. In preparation for these events, and aware that such mega-events have large costs while often yielding few long-term benefits, federal, state and local government authorities, together with civil society, have emphasized the need to leave a lasting legacy to the city, while taking the opportunity to solve many decades-old problems.
As a standard for leaving a valuable legacy, authorities looked at the lessons and sought advice from the planners and organizers of the Barcelona (1992), Sydney (2000) and London (2012) Games. All of these cities successfully recovered deteriorated urban areas, and provided valuable lessons on waterfront revitalization, together with modernization of their public transit systems. Among the huge investments currently underway, there are several flagship urban renovation and transportation projects.
The Porto Maravilha (Wonderful Port) Project (US$ 3.7 billion) is a public-private partnership that seeks to re-integrate the deteriorated Port Region into downtown Rio de Janeiro, and includes the demolition of a double-deck freeway, implementation of several LRT (Light Rail Transit) lines, construction of dedicated bikeways, recovery of the architectural heritage, and real-estate development to re-populate the area through mixed land uses to allow workers to live close to their workplaces.
Another chief project is the long due extension of its subway system, with the construction of Metro Line 4 (US$ 4.3 billion, 16 km), connecting Ipanema to Barra da Tijuca, an affluent neighborhood in the South Zone suburbs, that will provide relief to one of the most congested corridors in the city. Another key project is the construction of three new BRT (Bus Rapit Transit) corridors (US$ 2.2 billion): TransOlímpica (23 km), TransCarioca (39 km), and TransOeste (56 km). Together, these BRT corridors will not only provide adequate access to several of the main venues of the Games, but also are expected to benefit more than 1 million commuters per day. The first phase of the TransOeste BRT began operations in June 2012, and by January 2013 was carrying 83,000 passengers per day between Santa Cruz, a dormitory town, and Barra da Tijuca. The service, which benefits mainly a low- and mid-income population, has cut commuter time by half. An opinion survey showed that 90% of the users are satisfied with the service.
The improvement plans also include the implementation of a extensive bikeway network. A modern bikesharing scheme, Bike Rio, began operations in October 2011. The service area includes only the main "sun-and-beach" areas of the city. The program has proved popular among Rio tourists.
Despite the multiple long-term benefits expected from these investments, they are mostly limited to the city proper, home to about 50% of the 12.6 million people who live in the Rio Metropolitan Area. The entire region is made of 19 municipalities, some with a high degree of conurbation, and most of them are low-income bedroom communities. Workers in many of these towns commute by urban train, which is not reliable and delivers low-quality service. Walking and bicycling are the favorite means to access the train stations, particularly in the Baixada Fluminense (located in the northern lowlands), but there are no facilities for storing bikes. SuperVia, the train operator, has many projects to solve these problems and modernize its infrastructure and rolling stock, but its execution is not happening at the same rate as the projects inside Rio de Janeiro.
For Rio to really reap all the benefits it is expecting, a regional effort is required to improve urban infrastructure and basic services in these commuter towns, similar in nature to the interventions Rio is implementing in its favelas. Complexo do Alemão (a group of 13 favelas north of Rio) set the standard for the kind of intervention required. Nevertheless, effective regional coordination and strengthening the institutional capacity of the other local governments should be a priority. Because this is a long-term effort, hopefully there is still time to take care of the regional aspect.
Mario Duran is a Senior Urban Development Specialist with over 30 years of professional experience in the public, private and academic sectors. He has worked over the past 12 years at the Inter-American Development Bank, both at headquarters and at the Brazil country office. His areas of expertise include: transportation economics and policy, privatization of transportation infrastructure, technical and economic feasibility analysis, project finance, urban transportation planning and sustainable transport (climate change mitigation, low-carbon cities, biofuels, and alternative fuel and advanced vehicles).
The views expressed by the author in this article are entirely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Inter-American Development Bank, its Board of Directors or the countries it represents.
Photos by Mario Duran.