Monday, August 23, 2010

Driving and congestion

Anyone who has traveled the roads of Brazil knows that they are dangerous, filled with scofflaw drivers in the extreme. The number of traffic accidents seems to climb to ever higher levels each year over holiday weekends.

There are some people in our circle of friends with whom I refuse to be a passenger in their car. They drive too dangerously and refuse to slow down or stop weaving in and out of fast moving traffic. Sorry, I would rather take the bus.

Busses have a reputation for being driven by crazy drivers as well (municipal as well as inter-municipal) but I have to say that in the past 10 years or so I have noticed a big improvement in safety on inter-municipal busses: slower speeds, less aggressive maneuvering, etc. I feel safe traveling by bus.

Given the growth of the middle class, the greater access to consumer credit and the government’s tax holiday on car purchases, Brazil has seen a real explosion in personal car ownership in recent years. This has definitely translated into way more cars on the road and heavy traffic.

[This classic photo of gridlock in São Paulo makes the rounds whenever this topic comes up. Click to enlarge.]

When you combine all these cars with minimal road capacity PLUS drivers who see no reason not to use the shoulder as an additional lane, or to turn right from the center lane, you’ve got trouble. Congestion is a serious problem in urban areas.

But then I saw this article about a traffic jam in China that has been going on for 9 days (and counting) and stretches more than 100 kilometers. I thought we had it bad.

Uh oh - we do have it that bad.  This morning's news reports 99 kilometers of congestion in São Paulo due to an accident.  Oh well, at least there will be vendors walking between the lanes selling biscuits and beverages.

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