Jerom Theunissen Photography


March 31-April 4

City in Context

Curitiba is the capital city of Parana, a state in Southern Brazil. For years, Curitiba has been studied and referenced as an exemplary case study for urban transport planning for quality of life. Over the past 50 years, the population has tripled from 500,000 inhabitants in 1965 to 1.87 million inhabitants in 2015. As one of the fastest growing cities in Brazil, Curitiba faced significant pressures to cope with an influx of residents. Unlike its peer cities in Brazil, substantial growth has been accompanied by improvements in public transport systems, expansion of green spaces, social and education programs and solid waste management programs. The key has been the concerted effort on behalf of local and state officials to plan for and control urban development in an efficient manner.

In the realm of transport, Curitiba has developed a high quality of life for its inhabitants by prioritizing people over cars.  The man who led this charge was former mayor and governor Jaime Lerner, an architect and planner who developed a radically different vision for Curitiba. He became mayor in 1971, a few years after the construction of Brazil’s modernist new capital, Brasilia (see my post on that city here). As mayor of Curitiba, Lerner contested car-centric urban planning paradigms that were favored in cities like Brasilia. When Lerner was elected into office, he faced a plan to widen the city streets to cope with increased traffic.  Lerner did the opposite, and paved Rua Quinze de Novembro over with cobbles for pedestrian use. Today, the iconic street is known as Boulevard de Flores (Flower Street). It remains closed to traffic and is lined with shops and restaurants. 

Rua Quinze de Novembro is one of Brazil's first major pedestrian streets.

One of Lerner’s greatest legacies was his solution to keep Curitiba moving. The city was clogged with cars during rush hour. Lerner and the city’s urban planning agency IPPUC knew the answer lay in public transport. Many of Curitiba’s contemporaries were floating the development of an extensive subway system, but Lerner also pushed back on this idea, and instead focused design efforts on reimagining the city’s bus system. In 1974, Lerner and IPPUC introduced a new street design that provided express lanes for buses.Passengers would board from new stations along the medians of the city’s main streets, ensuring that buses could move interrupted throughout the city.

Tubular station design is an iconic feature of Curitiba's BRT system.

Lerner also improved this system by designing the iconic elevated glass boarding tube, where passengers would pay before boarding and a level platform maximizes access for all types of users including the disabled. This tube station design means less idling and cuts the bus travel times, allowing BRT to reach capacities similar to more expensive rail-based systems.

TOD and intelligent land use planning allowed high density development along Curitiba's BRT corridors.  Pictured here is Avenida Sete de Septembro.

Image courtesy of Eduardo Sinegaglia.

The key to the success of the transport system in Curitiba is a Master Plan that recognizes the importance of high-density, mixed land use and hierarchical street systems. Transit-oriented development was pioneered in Curitiba, with land within two blocks of the busway being zoned for mixed commercial-residential uses. These are complimented by the “structural axes” of the city, where corridors with significant travel demand make moving between the center and edge of Curitiba easier. Most importantly, transport planning is more isolated from the politics associated with city officials. IPPUC, Curitiba’s legendary planning agency, has the authority to monitor, implement, and update the plan and is largely independent from city hall. Therefore, the city is able to better work towards achieving the goals set forth in the Master Plan. With good land use policy as a bedrock, bus-based public transportation in Curitiba has made Curitiba an international reference in urban planning.

Praça Rui Barbosa, a bus terminal in the heart of Curitiba's historic center, is where express and local buses alike serve passengers. 

Image courtesy of Eduardo Sinegaglia.

During my time in Curitiba, I wanted to see how Lemer’s legacy was faring after all the innovations he brought in the 70s and 80s. Would Curitiba’s BRT still be considered an inspiration for the excellent bus systems I visited in Jakarta, Ahmedabad, or Bogota?

Lecture at PUCPR, PostGraduate Program in Urban Management

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to present my research at Pontificia Universidade Católica do Paraná’s (PUCPR) PPTGU school. I connected with Professors Rodrigo Firmino and André Turbay through Professor Karst Geurs at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. I had read about the Sustainable Urban Mobility Lab partnership between University of Twente and PUCPR online and wanted to visit the university for my research. To my surprise and pleasure, Professor Firmino suggested I give a lecture to the graduate students in urban management about my travels.

My lecture focused on the following:

  • Global trends in urban mobility
  • How society, governance, and infrastructure shape urban transport planning
  • Innovative examples from around the world, including the Netherlands, Barcelona, Seoul, Medellin, London, Singapore, and Cape Town are addressing local transport challenges for quality of life
  • A path forward

To view my presentation slides, click here.

I would like to thank Professors Firmino and Turbay again for the opportunity to speak about my experiences!

Meeting with Cycling NGO Cicloiguacu - Curitiba's Advocate for Better Cycling

WhileCuritiba is hailed for its innovation in BRT, the city is lacking in othersustainable alternatives, notably cycling. In the 1940s, cycling wasestablished in Curitiba when bikes were brought by European immigrants. UntilJaime Lerner introduced the bicycle as a mode of transport around the city inthe 1980s, recreational cycling was dominant. Before 2007, Curitiba did nothave any cycle lanes. This prompted cycling advocates to employ tacticalurbanism techniques to paint their own lanes with red paint. These effortssparked a movement amongst cycling advocates in the city that led to theformation of Cicloiguacu in 2011. I met with founder Fernando Rosenbaum(pictured above) and cycling infrastructure expert Henrique Moreira. I wasgrateful to speak with them about the role Cicloiguacu plays in creating aconstructive dialog with public powers to consolidate cycling mobility policydevelopment.

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