Opinion – Jorge Abrahão: Tell me how you’re doing and I’ll tell you what city you are

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Access to public services, leisure areas and work opportunities that cities offer is what makes them great poles of attraction, a trend that has been encouraging the concentration of a large part of the world’s population. In Brazil, 85% of people live in urban centers.

Circulation through cities then becomes a growing challenge and, in September, Mobility Month, it is worth reflecting on the panorama of displacements in large urban centers. For those who have returned to public spaces with more intensity, especially in large urban centers, the perception of an increase in the number of people and cars on the streets is inevitable.

The consequences are not just visual, and for those who need to cross São Paulo on their daily journeys, the numbers are clear. The survey Living in São Paulo: Urban Mobility, by Instituto Cidades Sustentáveis, in partnership with Ipec, shows that after three years of decline, the average total travel time in 2022 rose to 2h19 minutes in the city. Among residents of the East Zone, it can be longer than 3 hours.

The municipal bus continues to be the most frequently used transport, responsible for the displacements of 33% of the population in the capital, while almost half of São Paulo residents claim to walk every day, at least in part of their journeys. It is up to the city hall to create and maintain urban structures that promote active mobility and free movement through cities. The sidewalks are precarious, narrow, full of obstacles and unevenness and without adequate signage.

The survey also shows that the percentage of the population that claims to use a bicycle has decreased by 8%, compared to 2020, with half of users saying that theft and robbery are the situations that most affect their willingness to ride. Once again, territorial inequality: in the East Zone of the capital, the percentage of cyclists dropped from 14% to 6%.

In São Paulo, there is a lack of public policies that guarantee public and road safety for pedestrians and cyclists. We still experience a predominance of traffic guidance aimed at drivers. Suffice it to note that most of the public lighting is intended for the streets, not the sidewalks, in addition to the overwhelming absence of signage aimed at bicycles, both directly for cyclists and motor vehicle drivers. Such signs are important to avoid accidents and to recognize the role of pedestrians and cyclists in the city, demonstrating care and encouraging interaction between different modes.

In view of next week’s general elections, attention is drawn to the little space given to urban mobility in government programs and in electoral propaganda as a whole. The federal government and state governments have an enormous challenge to strengthen public transport systems, in a context of crisis in the financing of transport and fewer passengers transported. It is unfair to leave this role only to the municipalities.

The creation of a Single Mobility System, similar to the SUS, where there is a redistribution of competences over urban transport, is one of the proposals of civil society, a campaign led by the Consumer Defense Institute (Idec) and the Movement for the Right to Quality Public Transport (MDT), but which already brings together more than 140 organizations from all over the country. Effective citizen participation, transparency of operational and economic data, integration in planning in metropolitan areas and the adoption of cleaner technologies are some of the principles of the proposition.

This coming Sunday, it is worth analyzing how our cities appear (or not) in the programs of the different candidates. The different spheres of government have enormous responsibility in this matter, which greatly impacts the quality of life of the entire population. Just think how many things we could do with the hours wasted in commuting each day.

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