On two wheels

brasilobserver - Apr 20 2015
Ciclovia da rua Vergueiro em São Paulo Marcos Santos/USP Imagens
Photo: Marcos Santos/USP Imagens

(Leia em Português)

The benefits of using bicycles as a means of transportation have been broadly discussed and are well known. In both São Paulo and London, the transformation is underway


By Guilherme Reis

London, 27 March, 6pm local time. Near to the Southbank Centre, cyclists gather for another ride organized every last Friday of the month by Critical Mass. Around 7pm, with a gathering that certainly surpassed the mark of 500 people, the trumpets warn that the march on two wheels is about to begin. In the following hours, to the sound of reggae coming from boxes attached to the bikes of some participants, Brasil Observer follows the procession passing through Holborn, Camden Town and King’s Cross until finally reaching the end point in Covent Garden. The reason for the meeting is simple: to promote the use of bicycles as an alternative for transportation, and raise awareness for the secure sharing of public spaces in the city.

São Paulo, 27 March, 6pm local time. At the Praça do Ciclista (Cyclist Square), on Paulista Avenue, cyclists, cycle activists and supporters join the ride that happens every last Friday of the month to protest. The reason: an injunction that, a week before, had suspended the construction of cycle routes throughout the city for lack of planning. Just after 8pm, the protest that brought together about 7,000 people began moving towards Paraíso metro station. On the halfway mark comes the news that the São Paulo Court of Justice has just overturned the injunction that prevented the implementation of bike paths. Protesters celebrate, but know that the fight in favour of the bicycle as an alternative means of transportation, as well as the awareness of citizens for the peaceful sharing of public spaces, continues.

The social, economic, environmental and health benefits of the use of bicycles for transportation have been broadly discussed worldwide and are very well known. That’s why the world’s largest cities have struggled to encourage the use of bikes, an effort that involves the construction of the cycling infrastructure and the awareness of car drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to transform the urban environment safer. Sao Paulo and London, as it should be, also have been adjusted to the new times, although they are in different stages.


Photo: Fernanda Carvalho/Fotos Públicas

Photo: Fernanda Carvalho/Fotos Públicas

The demand for cycling infrastructure compatible with the greatness of the city of Sao Paulo has been growing for at least three decades, Renata Falzoni, a cycle activist and bike reporter with over 30 years of experience told Brasil Observer. But only now, under the administration of Mayor Fernando Haddad (Workers Party) – elected in 2012 to four years in office – the subject was incorporated into the city’s Target Program. The plan is to deliver 400 km of cycle routes by the end of 2015, with an estimated cost of 80 million reais.

The last path delivered by the time of writing was in Bom Retiro, in the central area, on 2 April. The city now has 264.8 km of routes for cyclists. Of this amount, the current administration inaugurated 201.8 km since June 2014. So before that, Sao Paulo had only 63 km.

For the cycle activist Willian Cruz, author of the website Vá de Bike (Go by Bike), “it is already possible to travel long distances in the city using cycle routes on most of the way, sometimes the whole way.” To Brasil Observer, he acknowledged, however, that “in some places there are irregularities on the asphalt and on signalisation”.

The feeling that things can still be improved is recurring. But, in general, cyclists are satisfied. “We are putting many problems aside. What is being done is basically what is possible at this moment, in this chaotic city that still depends on the car as much by necessity as by addiction,” said Renata Falzoni. She believes that cycling infrastructure is being made in network and will connect cyclists. “Only this way more and more people will come by bicycle to the streets, will occupy the cycle routes and, consequently, the public space. The important thing is to connect, occupy and then improve”.

A survey released by Ibope institute last September showed that Sao Paulo has gained more than 85,000 frequent cyclists between 2013 and 2014 – a period that coincides, in part, with the expansion of cycling infrastructure. According to the survey, 261,000 people had been using bicycles every day for transportation last year. Is the last Origin/Destination research conducted by the Metro service, in 2012, 333,000 daily bike trips were recorded – the number represents about 1% of all trips made by adding all means of transport available.

But there are those who complain about the cycle infrastructure that has been implemented. “The opposition comes from a minimum share of the population that believes public spaces should be privatized for car parking, or for single use of automobiles, a model that drives the people out of the streets, segregates and is directly responsible for low quality of life in the city,” opined Renata Falzoni.

For Willian Cruz, the big problem has been the “partisan polarisation” on the city project. “Cycle routes have been called ‘Haddad’s Cycle Routes’ by the press, as if they were made to achieve electoral objectives, not to improve mobility and protect the lives of people who use or plan to use bicycles for transportation,” he commented.

The safety of cyclists, in fact, is the best thermometer to measure how efficient the city’s plan is, whether related to the infrastructure and signalling as in the question of awareness. The latest data on accidents and deaths in the Sao Paulo traffic is from 2013. That year, 712 accidents involving cyclists were recorded, with 35 deaths – high number by European standards. In 2005, 93 deaths were recorded.

“Sao Paulo looks like London. There are many buses, taxis and delivery trucks on the streets. You must have cold blood to face it. London has the advantage of having much less motorcycles and more cyclists on the streets. And if the driver runs over, he goes to jail. The London driver may not like the cyclists, but respects them or faces the consequences of the law. In Sao Paulo some drivers do not respect and that’s it,” said Renata Falzoni.

She recalled that an important step in this adaptation of public space is the Congestion Charge. “London faced the proposal to take cars out of the streets. In Sao Paulo, we have a caster scheme that was founded two decades ago and has not changed anything substantially.”


Photo: Reprodução/Pop Up City

Photo: Reprodução/Pop Up City

The bicycle, as a means of transportation, started to be taken seriously in London in 2008, when the mayor Ken Livingstone set a target to increase by 400% bike trips in the city by 2025. That same year, however, he lost the elections to Boris Johnson, who promised to continue supporting the expansion of cycling in the capital.

In 2010, 6,000 bikes were made available on short-rent scheme Barclays Cycle Hire in 400 stations in nine central London boroughs. The number was soon expanded to 8,000 bikes at 570 stations, transforming the so-called ‘Boris Bike’ – a symbol of the city – which is now changing colour from blue to the red of Santander, the new sponsor.

Not everything is so easy though. Of the 12 Cycle Superhighway proposed by Levingstone in 2008, only four have been implemented: CS3 (Barking to Tower Gateway), CS7 (Merton to the City), CS2 (Stratford to Aldgate) and CS8 (Wandsworth to Westminster). All together have 33 km, according to the TFL (Transport for London).

But there are still a number of other routes available that form the London Cycle Network. In 2011, 2.5% of trips to work were made by bike in London – a high number compared with Sao Paulo, but considered disappointing by the English authorities (in Cambridge, for example, the figure was about 30%).

After the 2012 Olympics, the bike came to be seen as capable of revolutionizing transport in London. Inspired by the good performance of the British cyclists, the authorities decided to transform cycling and, in 2013, Boris Johnson presented a proposal to build two segregated bike routes that would make a cross in the city from north to south, east to west, reaching almost 35 km.

As in Sao Paulo, there was a lot of opposition, especially by taxi drivers, concerned about the fact that the routes would make the journeys longer because of the shifts needed to adapt the streets. Even so, the project was approved and construction began last month in the Southwark area. The north-south route will have almost 5 km and runs from King’s Cross to Elephant and Castle, while the east-west route will take about 30 km, from Barking to Acton.

To Rosie Downes of the London Cycling Campaign, the project was welcomed, “however progress hasn’t been as fast as we would have liked”. According to her, the segregated routes are a major step forward in creating safer roads for cyclists. “We have some concerns around some of the details which we are addressing with Transport for London, but overall we’re pleased to see that the scheme provides much more space for cycling, and also for pedestrians,” she added.

London plans to provide 913 million pounds in the ten years from 2013 to 2023 to make the city more inviting to the use of bicycles. This involves the construction of segregated routes to the adaptation of roads and junctions and the expansion of short-rent schemes.

One proposal is called Quiteways, routes in smaller and less busy streets, so that the cyclist can get away from the high streets that are always more dangerous. Rosie Downes, however, warns: “We welcome the Quietways in principle. London desperately needs routes that are suitable for everyone to cycle, and take people where they want to go. But it’s absolutely essential that these routes are actually ‘quiet’. Where the routes use residential roads which often suffer from ‘rat running’ – where vehicles cut through residential areas to reach their destination, rather than using main roads – measures must be taken to reduce high motor traffic volumes or speeds”.

To be more flat and have a more organized traffic system, and well-signalised bike routes, London is certainly a more inviting city for cyclists than Sao Paulo. The numbers prove it: in 2012, the average daily trips made by bicycle in the British capital was almost 600,000, and in the full year 14 deaths from bike accidents were recorded – the same number registered in 2013, considered high by Londoners.

The two cities, however, share the same desire, from a considerable part of their citizens. That is to transform urban mobility through the use of bicycles, rethinking the use of public spaces and promoting a more friendly way to get around. This is underway and has no way back.



Increasing number of cycle routes in large Brazilian cities and the spread of a healthier lifestyle are warming the bicycle market in the country, especially in the premium segment, with models that cost from 3,000 to 70,000 reais. “Over the past five years, sales of bikes in this segment increased at least 100%,” told to BBC Brazil Marcelo Maciel, president of the Brazilian Association of the Bicycle Sector. Luis Felipe Praça, president of Trek in Brazil, has a similar estimative. “Our sales in this segment must have grown on average 20% annually over the past five years,” he said to the same report.

The car manufacturers are also eyeing this market. Among the brands that manufacture luxury bikes are Land Rover, which is planning to take some of its models to Brazil, and BMW, which already sells three types of superbikes in Brazil, with prices from 7,000 to 19,000 reais. In addition to these, Chevrolet and Volkswagen have also launched their superbikes in the country.

The impacts in the production of bicycles as a whole, however, should not be felt immediately, as assessed by Abraciclo, an association that bringing together bicycle, motorcycles, motor scooters and other two-wheeled vehicle manufacturers. The number of units manufactured and sold in the country has remained stable in recent years, around 4.5 million bicycles. But this is not little: Brazil is the world’s third largest bicycle manufacturer, with a slice of 4% of the global market. First is China, with 67% of total production (80 million bicycles per year), followed by India, which has 8% (10 million bicycles per year).

Data from the same association indicate that Brazil is the fifth largest bicycle consumer market in the world, with 5.3 million units. Between domestic and imported models, 50% are used for transportation, 32% by children, 17% are for leisure and 1% for competitions.