Jammin’ – Would you want your city to look like this?

Sao Paulo. Image courtesy of the BBC

One of the most powerful defences of the cyclist’s right to be on the road, is the removal of another vehicle and an instant improvement in traffic flow. For many motorists, this seems to be counter-intuitive; the bicycle appears slower and more ponderous –  in effect, a rolling delay. But as all cyclists know – without getting sanctimonious about easier route choice, less hold ups and faster travel without question – less bikes on the road mean more cars, less space, increased delays and a whole world of hurt. Cycling to work this morning, heavy sheet rain lashed the trail, my bike and my (not so)waterproofs. I was in the minority by some margin and the net result of the violent weather was less cyclists, less public transport users and far more traffic. Adam street, for instance (a busy Cardiff thoroughfare) was a sea of unmoving red tail lights.

So it was with interest that I read the BBC’s article on Sao Paulo. If you want to stare down the barrel of unchecked traffic growth then this is what it looks like. According to city engineers, on an average day tailbacks extend for 112 miles, in and out of the city. That’s right. 112 miles. That’s Cardiff to Reading. EVERY DAY. Ahh…..but what about a bad day then? A mere 183 miles (and that’s Cardiff to Warrington). I’m not entirely sure they have good days.

The most salient points of the article, are the comments made by Professor Claudio Barbieri an engineering and transport expert from the University of Sao Paulo. He points out that increased traffic results in increased costs as a result of a self fulfilling prophecy, “If you have a truck and this truck cannot make more than six to eight deliveries instead of 15 or 20, you need two trucks, so everything becomes more expensive.” So its rather like the cold war arms race. You’ve got 10 nukes, so I need 11 nukes. Ad infinitum. And as Vonnegut would say; and so it goes. Professor Barbieri also goes on to point out that “No city in the world will ever manage to end congestion because when traffic flows, people are drawn to their cars. The key is to find a balance, the point at which it is worthwhile for commuters to use public transport because it’s faster then driving”. That statement applies just as equally across the globe, from Sao Paolo to San Francisco and from Cairo to Cardiff. From a UK perspective, ‘Cycling’ could – and should – also be inserted into the latter part of his sentence. It is half tempting to print and laminate a copy of that Sao Paulo traffic jam and tuck it in the courier bag with a little post-it note attached; for bolshy drivers anywhere.

Read the full BBC article here.

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