Not only biking in Rio de Janeiro becomes more popular every day, but it is a trend that goes all around Brazil. The opening of a bike lane on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo, one of the most famous thoroughfares of Latin America in the heart of the city, this weekend symbolises the change of heart over attitudes to transport. The Brazilian city has almost six million cars and is famous the world over for its traffic congestion. The initiative is part of a project backed by the city's mayor, Fernando Haddad. He pledged to expand São Paulo's existing network of bike lanes from almost 65 kilometer to 400 kilometer in length by next year.
Bike lanes have been a matter of sometimes heated debate in São Paulo since 1975 when the first lane was constructed, only to be replaced 15 years later with a tunnel for cars. São Paulo is infamous for the volume of its car traffic Three proposals to create a network of bike lanes in the last 30 years never came to fruition. But backing from the city authorities has proved to be a boost for the cyclists community.
"Many people wanted to use bikes but didn't because they were afraid. We want to guarantee the cyclists' safety. It's their right", the city hall explained the support for the lanes. An opinion poll conducted suggested two thirds of residents of São Paulo backed the policy. More than half of those questioned said they used a bike at least once a week, while 13% said that they never used one.
In the last year, 238km of new bike lanes were built in São Paulo, but no stretch is as symbolic as the 2.7 kilometer-long lane set to open on Sunday on Avenida Paulista. The avenue, once lined with the homes of Brazil's rich coffee barons, is now a busy commercial area. Sao Paulo won an award for the sustainable transportation development, rightfully so. For the moment, one of Latin America's most famous avenues now has a distinctively bike friendly character, with pedal power holding its own in a city famous for its gridlock of cars.
(edited version of article on BBC.com)