Opinion: Kelly Fernandes – Too many cars impede the sustainable development of cities

According to dictionaries, the word congestion means excessive or abnormal accumulation of fluid, often blood, in an organ or in a certain region of the body. If we imagine that streets, streets and avenues are veins and that the flow of cars represents the blood, it is easy to see that cities are congested. This is because there is an excessive number of cars accumulated, preventing sustainable development.

But what does sustainable development mean anyway? According to a definition elaborated by the UN (United Nations Organization) “it is the one who manages to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the existence of future generations”. Once the meanings and concepts have been launched, the warning is: we need to encourage the use of public transport and discourage the use of individual motorized transport.

To put it mildly: it is urgent to replace the use of cars and motorcycles by public transport, such as buses and subways, and by active transport, such as on foot and by bicycle.

Before they call me an alarmist, the recent survey “Trends and inequalities in urban mobility in Brazil: the use of collective and individual transport”, carried out by Ipea (Institute of Applied Economic Research), showed that the number of people using the public transport system plummeted between 1995 and 2019, while there was growth private vehicle fleet, mainly in medium and small cities (municipalities with less than 20,000 inhabitants), while the number of vehicles in circulation tripled.

The phenomenon is related to the most varied economic incentives for those who use cars, such as tax reductions, free parking, price controls and unrestricted investments in the expansion of infrastructure dedicated to vehicular circulation.

But it is also related to the timid investments made in public transport, which include public transport on foot and by bicycle. Just to give you an idea, according to estimates released recently, investment in infrastructure in Brazil fell 5.4% in 2020. This is the lowest contribution in the last two decades.

Therefore, each of the needs requires a different set of efforts. The first of these needs is to increase the use of public transport, and then reduce the use of individual transport. Dealing with the first demand requires expanding investments in public transport, making it more advantageous, attractive and efficient.

Action that, in turn, requires the reduction of space for the car. And here we understand space both physically, in cities, and financially, in the public budget.

Reducing car space can be achieved by increasing the costs associated with the use of that individual vehicle, such as charging for parking on public roads, tolls in strategic areas and increased vehicle ownership costs. However, an exponential increase in the advantages of the use of non-motorized collective and/or individual public transport (on foot and bicycle) needs to occur first, which requires the universalization of the infrastructure that supports these modes of transport, as already provided for in public policies urban areas.

In practice, this means building bus corridors, subway lines, bicycle paths, accessible sidewalks and everything else that a citizen needs to get around safely, at low cost and in comfort.

Such measures are urgent, not least because the cities that saw the motorization rate double or triple are the majority among the 2,669 municipalities without public transport. And international examples prove that, without massive investments in public transport and restrictions on the circulation of motor vehicles, it is impossible to decongest roads and guarantee more sustainable urban environments, for us and for future generations. In addition, no one can stand to stand against the grain any longer.

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