This city of 1.8 million people is world renowned as a model of sustainable urban planning, and has been referred to as one of the most innovative cities in the world. While Curitiba has opened eyes globally with all kinds of interesting planning strategies – such as turning a floodplain into a park rather than spend billions on a levee (that may not necessarily work, as eventually happened in New Orleans)- it is their public transit system that has been very inspirational. From wiki, ” The system, used by 85% of Curitiba’s population, is the source of inspiration for the TransMilenio in Bogotá, Colombia, Metrovia in Guayaquil, Ecuador,as well as the Orange Line of Los Angeles, California, and for a future transportation system in Panama City, Panama.” And that despite the fact that Curitiba has one of the highest car ownership ratios in the country!
But it took a leader with the courage to go against the grain to get Curitiba doing things efficiently in a different way. Jaime Lerner became mayor in 1988 and was given money to build a subway system. But the overall cost seemed too high – even “light rail” was deemed expensive – so they decided to go with a bus system that maximized availabilty to all districts and neighborhoods.
Here is a typical bus stop on the system. Passengers pay at the entrance to the tube and enter the bus on a level plane which facilitates boarding and unloading and leaves the driver with nothing more to do than just drive the bus.
It is kind of hard to picture that on Ste. Catherine street in winter isn’t it? But that doesn’t mean that the basic ideas are not usable here. Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of this system is that it actually makes a profit. That is correct. No endless government subsidization.
The system is not without it’s critics, most of whom say the it would not work in large American or European systems. But what is the difference between practical matters and just plain old political resistance to change? Most North American cities are glued in to networks of development that maximize profits for the builders of the system with an almost naive hope that when done, everyone will think it is wonderful, despite the fact that building costs will almost always create an insurmountable deficit for the system before it has even opened. We need to learn from Curitiba as part of reshaping our thinking.
Here is Jaime Lerner on sustainable cities.