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Curitiba is a city in Southern Brazil with a population of close to two million people, a moderate climate and large areas prone to flooding. In the past, its fast population growth threatened to destroy its identity and the city faced the risk of a traffic collapse.

There is nothing else that Curitiba and Kampala have in common.

Today, Curitiba has a well-organised city administration, a highly efficient Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and therefore very little traffic congestion, massive public parks and sound social policies. In a recently conducted poll, 99% of the city population said they were happy with their city and would not want to live anywhere else. It has been called ‘the most innovative city in the world’.

Photos of Curitiba

(Photos from curitiba-parana.net and wikimedia.org)

Jaime Lerner, Architect, Urban Designer and former Mayor of Curitiba/Brazil

Architect and Urban Designer Jaime Lerner is the author of this urban design fairytale. He designed the Curitiba Master Plan which was adopted in 1968. In 1971, he became Curitiba’s Mayor and failed to be voted out of office for the next 22 years. His simple message: People are more important than cars. In ‘City of Dreams‘, a documentary by Olivia Rousset, he says: ‘If you want to make life better for people, make the cities better‘.

According to Lerner, the secret behind his concept is its simplicity. ‘We didn’t have fear of simplicity, because a city is not so complex that the complexity sellers want us to understand.

Triple-articulated bus in Curitiba, Brazil

Traffic
The core of his plan was to pedestrianise a number of streets and squares and to create five major arteries in and out of the city centre in what is called a Trinary Road System: Two one-way streets moving in opposite directions surround a two-lane street exclusively used by express buses. During rush hour, a triple-articulated (!) bus arrives every 60 seconds in either direction. Wherever you are and wherever you go within the city, you pay one fixed fare. It is a ‘subway above ground’. Two million passengers, 85% of Curitibians use this so-called Rede Integrada de Transporte every single day, and Lerner claims it is ‘one of the few systems in the world which is not subsidised. It pays by itself‘. ‘We can transport in this simple system more passengers than in a subway. The cost – 100 times or 200 times less expensive than a subway. And we can do it, we can implement a system, in less than two years.

Parks
One of Curitiba’s problems were constant floodings of the lower areas, something the city shares with Kampala. But instead of building ugly Nakivubo Channels all over the place, the city turned all those areas into parks. In fact, the whole central city is now surrounded by an enormous system of interconnected parks (and no fencing to be seen anywhere around them!). When it came to maintaining all the parks, more specifically to the cutting of all the grass, Lerner came up with another simple solution: He introduced sheep!

Garbage Collection
And another striking idea: The city hands out basic commodities to the poor in return for collecting garbage and cleaning up the city. For every five kilos of rubbish they hand in, they are given one kilo of vegetables and fruits.

In Lerner’s words:

I think there’s a lot of cities – they have incredible potential. The people – they don’t trust it’s possible to do it. If they don’t have a generous view about their cities, they won’t have a generous view about people. So if you want to make life better for people, make the cities better for people.

He has retired as Mayor and is since travelling the world’s cities as a consultant. Maybe we should invite him.