Brazil: Curitiba’s Rapid Growth through Rapid Transit

In the third part of our series, International Transportation and Michigan, we focus on Curitiba, Brazil, home to the first Bus Rapid Transit system.

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Curitiba’s buses and a tube-shaped bus stop, both parts of Rede Integrada de Transporte, the Bus Rapid Transit system of Curitiba

Curitiba, Brazil has been profoundly praised by transit enthusiasts for the city’s focus on transit development. In 1974, the Rede Integrada de Transporte (Integrated Transportation Network) was implemented in Curitiba, establishing the first-ever Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in the world. BRT is similar to a fixed-rail transit system, but at a much cheaper cost. Typically, buses move above ground in their own designated lanes completely separate from automobiles, and are often faster than regular bus service.

Over the past four decades, cities across the world, including in Michigan, have expanded their public transportation networks mirroring Curitiba’s BRT method. Today, BRT is in use in more than 180 cities worldwide, successfully addressing challenges of urban mobility by providing an alternative means of transport and reducing automobile dependence. Curitiba’s BRT is used by an impressive 85% of the city’s population.

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Jamie Lerner posed in front of a BRT bus

Before significant investment into urban sustainability and transit, Curitiba was plagued with pollution, a lack of green space, traffic congestion, and overflowing landfills. Through aggressive sustainable urban development projects, Curitiba has experienced a dramatic turnaround, becoming a world leader by advising other cities around the globe to promote Transit Oriented Development (TOD). A 2011 report by the  Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), said Curitiba’s experience “has also been a model for other large cities, particularly from emerging economies, which have decided to invest on BRT as the backbone of their public transport system.”

The public transportation project all started with a vision by the Mayor and Urban Planner, Jaime Lerner, to enhance the city’s environmental sustainability. In a Ted Talk in March 2007, Lerner said the “city is not a problem, city is solution.” Lerner turned a car-dependent society into a city of transit users, improving transportation and reducing carbon emissions. Lerner regularly says, “The car is like your mother-in-law. You have to have a good relationship with her, but she cannot command your life.”

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A Curitiba bus station

Seeing a bleak future of increased car dependency, Lerner knew the city needed a subway, but there was nowhere near enough funding for such a capital-intensive project. Instead, he put his creativity to work and developed an alternative method to move people, but at a significantly lower cost. Compared with the Curitiba BRT, “a light rail system would have required 20 times the financial investment; a subway would have cost 100 times as much.”

Not only is the Rede Integrada de Transporte cost-efficient, it also is aesthetically pleasing. The BRT stations are clear boarding tubes, sheltering riders from weather. The stations include wheelchair-accessible platforms, route information, and ticket machines so buying tickets does not hold up the buses. Today the Curitiba BRT is so successful, this privately owned system pays for itself without the help of government subsidies.

Michigan has also begun to embrace BRT within several of our communities. The Silver Line in Grand Rapids has been running successfully since August of this year and has opened up discussion about expanding the BRT system in the area by implementing the Laker Line. The Laker Line would replace the existing overcrowded 50 and 51 bus routes. A primary goal is to “connect the Grand Valley State University community to the greater community,” said Jennifer Kalczuk, a spokeswoman for The Rapid. In the East Lansing area, the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) has proposed a similar  BRT line. CATA proposes to build an 8.5-mile BRT line from the State Capitol in Downtown Lansing, linking Michigan State University and Downtown East Lansing residents to the Meridian Mall in Meridian Township.

Cleveland's BRT, the Healthline

Cleveland’s BRT, the Healthline

Areas across the United States are seeing success too. Cleveland’s Healthline, a BRT project completed on Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue in 2008, has created rapid development for the city – $5.8 billion total or $114 for each transit dollar invested.

The lower cost of BRT allows communities to test out the demand for transit before investing in a more permanent solution. As Michigan witnesses other areas benefitting from new transit investments, we hope that our cities will begin to prioritize public transit in ways similar to Curitiba.

The lower cost of implementation allows areas to test out the demand for transit in the community before investing into a more permanent solution. As Michigan witnesses other areas benefiting from new transit investments, we hope that our cities will begin to prioritize public transit in ways similar to Curitiba.

Written by Hannah Lensing, Trans4M Fall Intern

One Comment on “Brazil: Curitiba’s Rapid Growth through Rapid Transit

  1. Nice report Hannah…short and to the point…included relevant material!

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