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The Secrets of Curitiba

By John Addison (4/30/08). Talking with the former Mayor of Curitiba and architect, Jamie Lerner, is like talking with Santiago Calatrava about designing buildings or having an imagined conversation with Frederick Olmsted about designing parks. Jamie Lerner designs cities. More accurately, he helps all create a strategic vision of cities for people, not cities for cars.

I talked with Jamie Lerner at the EcoCity World Summit after he delivered his keynote speech to political leaders and urban planners from over seventy countries.

As one of Brazil’s most popular mayors, Lerner was elected three times. He helped transform Curitiba from collection of shanty towns to a beautiful and sustainable city of about two million. At a time when many Latin Americans were disenchanted with their politicians, Jamie Lerner had a 92% approval rating. Following his success as mayor, he served as governor of the state of Parana for 8 years.

In the late sixties, Curitiba had a contest for the best urban design for their city’s future. In 1968, the city incorporated many of the ideas of young architect Lerner into the Curitiba Master Plan. In 1971, he was appointed mayor of Curitiba.

Facing a budget crisis, he had to search for big ideas that could be implemented with little money. He greened the city by involving citizens in planting 1.5 million trees. He solved the city’s flood problems by diverting water into lakes in newly created parks. He lifted some children from poverty by paying teenagers to keep the parks clean.

Educating and involving children are at the heart of solving most problems, from poverty to transportation, observes Governor Lerner.

Any leader will tell you that change is likely to be met with strong resistance. Thinking like an architect, Jamie Lerner wanted to beautify the city with pedestrian boulevards that were car-free. Shop owners were up in arms, fearing that the change would destroy them. Then Mayor Lerner convinced some to take part in a thirty day trial. Shoppers loved it. Before the trial ended, the merchants asked that the pedestrian zone be expanded to include more streets.

Like most cities, Mayor Lerner saw a city with clogged roads that divided where people lived from where they worked. Jamie’s wisdom sparkles with humor, “A car is like a mother-in-law, you must get along but not have her run your life.” He envisioned solidarity. Ecocity Videos

Lerner got the city moving. Curitiba could not afford the light-rail systems of Europe and the U.S. which often cost more than $20 million per mile. Curitiba invented rapid transit using buses.

Bus rapid transit is successful for many reasons. Payment is simple, fixed price regardless of distance traveled. For those without prepaid passes, payment is made when entering bus shelters not while boarding the bus. Curitiba’s shelters are inviting transparent tubes with LED lighting that allow all to wait in safety. Express buses travel on dedicated lanes on major streets. The buses are double articulated to carry up to 300 people per bus, and up to 50,000 per day. Buses arrive frequently. Inviting pedestrian walkways and bikeways bring people to the stations.

Since implementing bus rapid transit, Curitiba’s population of people has tripled, yet its population of cars has declined thirty percent. Governor Lerner explained that there were only 25,000 daily passenger rides on Curitiba buses in 1974. By 2008, there are more than 2.4 million passenger rides daily. In Curitiba, bus rapid transit is far more popular than cars. 85% of the systems use the rapid transit.

Jamie Lerner, the inspiring architect and governor, has been invited around the world to help with new urban design and transportation solutions.

Transit is getting more popular in the United States, with gasoline now at record prices in all fifty states. Increasingly the United States is adopting the secrets of Curitiba. In Los Angeles, when Richard Hunt, Executive Vice President of LAMTA, showed me the Orange Line, the lessons of Curitiba were everywhere. Stations were safe and inviting. Electronic signs displayed minutes until the arrival of the next bus. Fares were paid before boarding the bus, so that there would be no cue delays as people paid drivers. Articulated buses use dedicated bus pathways. During peak hours, buses arrive every three to seven minutes.

The Orange Line has been so popular that ridership not expected until 2020 was achieved in seven months. Soon LAMTA’s bus rapid transit system will cover 35 southern California cities and cover 420 miles.

Bus rapid transit invites millions in U.S. cities such as Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Boston, Orlando, Miami, Oakland and Kansas City. As America falls into a recession while oil and gasoline prices soar, rapid transit and smart growth urban development provide solutions.

Jamie Lerner has an answer, “cidade não é problema; cidade é solucão.” The city is not a problem; the city is a solution. Cities like Curitiba are model solutions from driving less and enjoying life more.

Copyright (c) 2008 John Addison. Permission to reproduce this article is granted when this copyright notice is preserved. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

Avoiding Rush Hour

By John Addison (5/9/07)

Now you can save $1,000 per year, reduce stress and improve your health. How? Never face rush hour alone. Increasingly people are using one or more approaches to avoiding lost hours in gridlock: participating in flexible work, using the HOV lane, riding public transit, and walking. AAA determined that many drivers spend about $8,000 driving their vehicle. Save a $1,000 of that by using one of these strategies.

In the Oil and Coal Age, everyone drove solo during gridlock hours to their one work location to toil over their designated machine. Now people are most effective working some days at one location, other times at home, others at a customer or supplier locations. We can take advantage of the new flexible workplace solutions to annually save hundreds of wasted hours, thousands of gallons of wasted gas, and pocket thousands of dollars. Hewlett Packard saves over 2 million round-trip commutes for its North American employees with an effective Telework program. Info tech meets cleantech.

The semiconductor chips in your computers, electronic games and mobile devices are likely to be made with equipment from Applied Materials. Their program, “Applied Anywhere,” addresses their global business environment and provides agility to be closer to the customer as well as supporting the needs of many employees who perform some or their entire job outside the traditional office place. The program “Applied Anywhere” supports eligible employees that at different times may need to work from one of several corporate offices, at home, at an airport, or at a customer site.

Investigate your employer’s flexible work program or simply spend the next rush hour working at home

It is a joy to sail past gridlock traffic in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane. HOV lanes have been a major success in encouraging people to save gas and ride together. A common requirement is that the lane only be used by vehicles with two or more passengers during designated rush hours. It is easy to join a carpool. See if there is one organized at work, or go to your favorite Internet site and type “carpool” and your zip code.

Public transit saved 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline in the USA in 2006. Public transit ridership increased 25% in ten years. 56% of transit trips are work related. Public transit is widely used in cities where light rail and buses are convenient and arrive frequently. 73% of all U.S. public transit rides occur in areas with over 5 million people. Most people in New York and many in Chicago commute to work with public transit.

Lauren Hurley loves living in Chicago. She finds the city alive with people, career opportunities, and places to be. Unlike her bedroom community friends, Lauren does not own a car. She can walk to the grocery store, to friends, and to neighborhood cafe.

Chicago’s bus service takes her to a stop that is a two minute walk to work. Being environmentally concerned, Lauren likes the fact that per person, riding a bus results in only 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions of driving solo. Lauren would not want a car in Chicago, “Parking is a major hassle. Parking lots and parking tickets are quite expensive. Public transit and taxis are more convenient.”

Enjoy a long life. Walk an extra mile each day to improve your health and burn extra calories. You will also help the environment. Next time you are stuck waiting for a parking place, considering parking the car, turning off that engine spewing emissions and walking.

In Washington D.C., eleven percent of the residents walk to work. An added 34% of commuters use public transit combined with some walking.

Ellen De Generes quipped, “My grandmother, she started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 today, and we don’t know where the heck she is.”

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution. A related article about Flexible Work and Cool Commutes is at the Clean Fleet Report.