Monday, June 20, 2005

Bus transit lessons from Curitiba

Curitiba, Brazil is often held up as a model city for how to do transit right, with an extremely efficient and fast bus system. One of my newsgroups had this post from Jim Karlock of Portland, which I thought I'd pass along since bus vs. rail is a big debate point in Houston right now.

Jamie Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba Brazil gave a talk in Portland last night. Here are a few items that struck me from his talk:

Beware of people selling complexity.

Their bus system pays its own way (NO SUBSIDIES!!!)

Sustainability consists of using fewer cars, separating your garbage (recycling), living closer to work.

They have double articulated busses that can carry 300 people. (Also have single articulated busses.) The bus system simulates a subway at much, much, much lower cost.

Surface transportation is key (as opposed to underground)

He ran a video showing the bus stopping, multiple doors opening, ramps extending to the station and people getting on/off. The fares were done at the station. Not on the bus. Their bus system costs MUCH less than light rail would have cost. The city built the busways and stations then contracted the actual busses to private operators on a per kilo basis. Busses can run on less than one minute headways. They can transport 50,000 passengers per hour past a point (I think this was one lane - yeah, I did the math that would be a 20 sec headway)

The new mayor considered light rail, but rejected it since they have a successful system.

Q: Portland is about to spend over $200 million to put in streets, sewer, water etc to support a new high density development. Does your city do the same?

A: NO. Development pays its own way.

Q: Portland will buy a parcel of land for, say, $1 million and sell it to a developer for, say, $1/2 million in order to get the type of development that it desires. Does your city do this?


No major revelations there. Just a strong endorsement of the cost effectivess of bus over rail or subways and avoiding government subsidies.


At 11:49 PM, June 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had the opportunity to travel to Curitiba and spend quite a bit of time meeting with city officials there, as well as to spend time with Jaime Lerner and his successor Rafael Greca during their visits to Charlottesville in the late 90s.

A key point that is missing from the otherwise fine description from Jim Karlock is that development in Curitiba is focused along the major BRT lines, and is high density. Curitiba seen from an airplane looks like a starfish on the beach - the development follows the BRT routes along 5 arms, which are know as structural axes. Each axis has a BRT line down the center, and a major one way street running parallel one block over in either direction. And yes, the BRT system runs a profit, and the bus lines in Curitiba are operated by private companies that bid for the opportunity to run them. Essentially, they got the land use-transportation connection right.

Another point worth noting is that Curitiba doesn't have a typical high-rise downtown. Downtown is a human-scaled mostly car-free pedestrian zone. The city's development is linear along the BRT axes, which I've not seen anywhere else.

Interestingly, they have one of the highest per capita levels of car ownership in Brazil, but one of the lowest levels of gasoline consumption per capita.

There's lots more to rave about... they recognized early on that it's a good idea to place parks along waterways that flood rather than let those areas develop, they provide a basic level of universal health care for children 5 and under (an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure...), their recycling rate is well above 50% (Houston's is around 5% which is an embarrassment), I believe they have more park land per capita than we do in Houston, etc.

Curitiba is a great model and discussion point for innovation in urban planning. We also saw plenty of flaws, which I won't go into, so I don't want to make it sound like all is perfect in Curitiba. However, considering their location and the explosive growth that they've experienced over the past few decades, it's fair to say that they could not have done much better.

At 8:57 AM, June 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Curitiba's freeway system pays its own way too, or if it even has one (NO SUBSIDIES!!!)

At 12:27 PM, March 09, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Houston native who used to live in Curitiba and I can not give a lesser review of that city's urban planning scheme than awesome. Everyone I knew had a car (freedom), but didn't have to deal with traffic hassle. Public transportation was ample, though often crowded, and effective. Walking is entirely possible through a large portion of the city, though some neighborhood are dangerous (but hey that's what cars and busses are for).

The "starfish" effect you mentioned was one of the first things I noticed too from the airport! It was quite odd looking at first, but made perfect sense once you experienced the city from below.

I wouldn't be surprised about the parkland per capita. On any given day, I could run to about 4 parks less than a few kilometers from my residence near the pedestrian road '15 de novembro' in the center of town.

Also, Curitiba proper doesn't really have 'freeways' in the sense that we do in Houston. There are highways but most are meant to skirt the town or take you to another town (basically what highways were originally intended to do).


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