Cycling in Rio de Janeiro's favelas, full of steep slopes and narrow alleys can seem like an impossible mission. But still a lot of people in Rio’s favelas use a bike as a means of transportation. Inside their own communities 57 percent of transportation is done by bike or on foot. However new research, published on May the 20th (2014), shows that the unfavorable conditions for bike use in some informal communities can be improved a lot by modern urban design and intervention.
Rio by Bike would welcome any development that would make Rio’s favelas more accessible for cyclists. During our bike tours in Rio de Janeiro we pass by favelas but we don’t enter them on a bicycle. The streets and alleys usually are too steep. But as you can see in other parts of town, not all informal communities are build on mountains. In those places it will easier to improve cycling.
The new research, the so called Manual of Projects and Programs to Encourage the Use of Bicycles in Communities, was presented in Rio de Janeiro. The study provides insights and solutions to improve transport by bike. It shows as well that biking is becoming more and more a serious alternative to other means of transportation in Rio de Janeiro. The study was conducted by the nongovernmental organization Embarq Brasil, in partnership with the Institute of Architects of Brazil, and took two years to complete. The coordinator of the research, Paula Santos da Rocha, told Agencia Brasil that the project provides tools for architects and urban interventions in informal communities, also to be used by local authorities responsible for infrastructure and social programs in Rio’s favelas.
She also said: "We hope this guide will serve as a kind of standard to follow, which does not exist in Brazil.” The guide presents alternatives that range from adequate lighting and traffic lights to permeable paving, to avoid flooding during heavy rainfall.
Not very surprisingly, 77 percent of the cyclists and 72 percent of the pedestrians, interviewed for the research, do not feel safe when biking and walking in the streets. Especially in Rio’s informal communities the lack of regular bike lanes can make cycling a dangerous activity. The car is king and cyclist and pedestrians find themselves at the lower end of the food chain.
In an interview with TheCityFix, a global network that promotes sustainable urban mobility, Paula Santos da Rocha said: ,, Many people have biked in communities in Rio and throughout Brazil, but these regions still have great, untapped potential to build a culture of cycling and sustainable mobility. The bicycle is a means of healthy entertainment that can provide residents access to school, work, recreation and integration with other forms of transport. The objective of the manual is to increase bicycle use in communities, and mitigate other less sustainable forms of transport such as motorcycling and automobiles.”
For steep areas in the communities there are ideas abound : a mechanized bicycle transportation system, bike racks at the foot of the hill, lifts where cyclists put one foot on a pedal on a sort of rail that pushes the cyclist uphill while they sit on the bikes. That system, the Cyclocable, has been used for over 15 years, successfully, in a town in Norway, which has many steep slopes. A bike sharing system through one single ticket is another proposal of the guide: the possibility to rent a bike, take a subway and a bus using a single ticket. The document also provides education programs on use, maintenance and recycling of the bicycle.