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Streets for Life in Brazil: Speed Reduction Initiatives in Recife and Salvador

Located on the northeast coast of Brazil, the cities of Recife and Salvador have been making incredible progress towards reducing traffic deaths by investing in safe, sustainable transportation to protect the most vulnerable street users — pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. In 2020, both cities joined the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS) program, which has supported their recent road safety efforts. As a part of the Safe Streets & Infrastructure pillar of this work, NACTO-GDCI was brought on to provide technical assistance, and has been an ally in these street design projects. 

Every year, approximately 40,000 Brazilians lose their lives in the country’s streets. In May 2021, on the occasion of the UN Global Road Safety Week and Yellow May (the month of road safety awareness in Brazil) both cities showcased their efforts to lower speeds and reduce traffic injuries through street transformations.

Speed reduction was the central theme of this year’s UN road safety event, which called on policy makers around the world to reduce urban speed limits to 30 km. Speeding is a key risk factor for road safety and influences both the likelihood of a crash as well as its severity and risk of death, and it is responsible for one in three deaths from traffic crashes worldwide, according to WHO.

During the week, mayors from both Recife and Salvador signed an open letter committing to reduce the number of traffic deaths by 50% by 2030, and they launched 30km/h speed reduction projects in neighborhoods across the cities, some of which are highlighted below:

 

Rua da Palma in Recife

 

Recife is the capital of Pernambuco state, and the center of the greater metropolitan region, which houses a population of 1.6 million people. In the past few years, the city has witnessed a great transformation, focusing in particular on promoting and protecting active modes of transport.

Located in Recife’s downtown, Rua da Palma is a commercial street and a key destination for residents shopping through the Santo Antonio neighborhood. Although the street was predominantly accessed by foot or transit, most of the street space was dedicated to cars (67%), and pedestrians and street vendors found themselves spilling onto the street. In fact, only 37% of the interviewed pedestrians considered walking conditions in the area to be good or excellent, and 79% of interviewed pedestrians didn’t find it safe to cross the street.

With this in mind, the city’s mobility agency (CTTU) committed to redesigning the space. As a first step, CTTU reduced the speed to 30 km/h, narrowed vehicle lanes, repurposed the parking spots as widened sidewalks, giving pedestrians 1020 square meters of added space. Then, planters, benches, and cycle racks were installed to bring more comfort to shoppers, workers, and passersby. To enhance the safety of those coming from neighboring streets, new pedestrian crossings were also added to the space. After the intervention, 71% of respondents reported feeling safe crossing the streets, and 80% offered positive feedback about the experience of walking through Rua da Palma. Additionally, a 97% compliance of the posted speed limit (30 km/h) was observed.

The city is continuing to propose improvements for other areas of the city, and learning from this project as they move forward. For now, the project has been a success and it will provide a useful roadmap for other interventions in the neighborhood. 

 

Bonfim Slow Zone in Salvador

 

Salvador is the capital of the state of Bahia and the third largest city in Brazil, with a population of 2.9 million people. The Bonfim neighborhood is a historic district that houses important cultural and religious landmarks in Cidade Baixa. Due to its historic significance and its landmark Nosso Senhor do Bonfim church, the neighborhood is a popular tourist destination, and every year, millions of people gather there in one of the biggest religious festivals in the state—Lavagem do Bonfim. Due to the high concentration of pedestrians in the area, lower speeds and safety improvements were key priorities for the residents and tourists that frequent the area. In fact, 86% of people interviewed agreed that pedestrians should be prioritized in the neighborhood, since only 41% felt safe crossing the streets and only 21% positively rated the area’s walking conditions.

During Yellow May, the city of Salvador proposed a slow zone for the area, taking important steps to safeguard the neighborhood’s pedestrians through street design. Changes in circulation allowed for the creation of a plaza, with a new painted surface and with protective bollards, benches, and play elements for children. These improvements added almost 400 square meters of added space for pedestrians. In addition, the speed limit was reduced to 30km/h and signage and new crosswalks were added. The new design led to a reduction of 77% of vehicles exceeding the speed limit in the area and a 91% overall compliance. Due to the tremendous success of the project, the city has announced planned implementations of more slow zones throughout the city.

 

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