curitiba v. bogota

Prof. Randall Crane compares Curitiba and Bogota in the latest post on his Urban Planning Research blog ("Cheap Chatter on Urban Studies"). I don't always agree with Prof. Crane but he does offer very insightful research into urban economics and urban planning. (c.f. this lecture in Toronto on "Sex, Lies and Commuting in the U.S. -1985-2005" -Quicktime. Windows media version here. )

Bogota, he says, "is substantially safer and more pleasant than I imagined, owing apparently to a series of quite visionary and effective mayors over the past decade and a half."

He cites this presentation by Arturo Ardila-Gómez that disputes some of the points made by this NYT article (subscription -but cited in full on Matt Khan's Environmental and Urban Economics blog here) on Jaime Lernier's success in Curitiba. The NYT article contends that Lernier's success was secured during the military dictatorship. According to Crane, Ardila-Gómez contends that, "Lerner was effective mainly because he was a coalition builder, even when the system was not particularly democratic."

Our own mayors should take notes on the need for "visionary and effective mayors" and "coalition builders."

Ardila-Gómez's presentation on the "Institutional Framework of the BRT processes in Curitiba and Bogota" also contains gems for Metro Manila. He compares the similar institutional settings before the BRT systems were put in place in Curitiba and Bogota:

  • Weak government agencies
  • Weak multiple bus operators
  • Result: extreme competition and low level of service
  • User pays inefficiency with inflated fare
  • Few powerful actors win e.g. bus operators
Then cites the first institutional change enacted in both cities - to strengthen bus operators by:
  • Curitiba, 1955-58:
  • ---From 150 to 9 operators by assigning each an exclusive area to operate (monopoly)

  • Bogota, 1998-2000
  • ---68 bus companies consolidated into 4 large operators for TransMilenio with exclusive rights to new routes

    ---large capital investors in some cases own majority stake

He goes on to cite the differences in approach in each city and concludes that effective BRT rollouts require strengthening both the bus operators and the government authority.

What is comforting is the how similar our own metropolis' situation is with the initial institutional frameworks of both Curitiba and Bogota.

All we need now are the visionary mayors.

P.S. -Read the NYT article to catch this emblematic story of Lernier's political smarts:

On Saturday mornings, children gather to paint and draw in the main downtown shopping street of Curitiba, in southern Brazil. More than just a charming tradition, the child's play commemorates a key victory in a hard-fought, ongoing war. Back in 1972, the new mayor of the city, an architect and urban planner named Jaime Lerner, ordered a lightning transformation of six blocks of the street into a pedestrian zone. The change was recommended in a master plan for the city that was approved six years earlier, but fierce objections from the downtown merchants blocked its implementation. Lerner instructed his secretary of public works to institute the change quickly and asked how long it would take. ''He said he needed four months,'' Lerner recalled recently. ''I said, 'Forty-eight hours.' He said, 'You're crazy.' I said, 'Yes, I'm crazy, but do it in 48 hours.' '' The municipal authorities were able to accomplish it in three days, beginning on a Friday night and installing paving, lighting, planters and furniture by the end of the day on Monday. ''Being a very weak mayor, if I start to do it and take too long, everyone could stop it through a juridical demand,'' Lerner went on to explain. ''If they stop the work, it's finished. I had to do it very fast, at least in part. Because we had discussed it a great deal. Sometimes they have to have a demonstration effect.''

The demonstration worked. Within days, impressed by the increase in their business, the once-recalcitrant shop owners were demanding an extension of the traffic-free district. Some diehard motorists, however, sulked. Lerner heard that a group of them were planning to disregard the prohibition and drive their cars into the street on a Saturday morning. So he contrived an unbreachable defense. With the cooperation of the city's teachers and a donation of rolls of newsprint and boxes of paint, on that morning he assembled several hundred children in the street, where they sat and drew pictures. ''It was to say, 'This is being done for children and their parents -- don't even think of putting cars there,' '' he told me. The sputtered-out protest was the last resistance to the pedestrianization of the shopping area, which has since expanded from the original 6 blocks to encompass about 15 today. ''Of course, this was very emblematic,'' Lerner recounted. ''We were trying to say, 'This city is not for cars.' When many mayors at the time were planning for individual cars, we were countervailing.'' He observed that it was emblematic in another way also: ''From that point, they said, 'If he could do this in 72 hours, he can do anything.' It was a good strategy.''

Image Credit: Photo from Urban Planning Research
(Randall Crane)

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