10 October 2011

Banal idiocy on a bike

The banal occurrences of daily life in Rio flit between the poles of the annoying and ridiculous. If it were almost any other city in the world, Rio de Janeiro would be completely impossible to aguentar (deal with), but because it’s so staggeringly beautiful, we accept and even encourage the magnificently wrongheaded race to the bottom that qualifies as public policy and urban planning. Comparable to an airbrushed super-model, Rio looks great and is seductively pouty but it’s a fragile image that belies serious eating disorders, exploitation, macho blinkeredness, and complicit consumers who fail to question a system that sends millions of women to the gym to reduce their bodies while their male counterparts get their vanity muscles inflated to cartoonish proportions.  

An example, if I may. The ferry that crosses Guanabara Bay is run by a private company via a concession given by the State Government. This is also known as privatization. Recently, the same idiot who was responsible for the bonde disaster in Santa Teresa (State Secretary of Transportation Júlio Lopes) allowed Barcas S.A. to eliminate night-time service because the company was not making enough money. There is virtually no bus service after mid-night so if you’re caught on the wrong side of the bay, the only practical solution is taxi: R$40 – 50. In this instance, the idiocy is allowing the incompetent state secretary of transportation to act on behalf of the private company.

Last week, I attempted to go by bicycle from Rio to Niterói. Arriving at Praça XV was a challenge because there is no bike path that links anything in the center of town to anything else. One has to brave the inferno of Rua Primeiro de Março where there is an excellent chance of becoming another statistic:  one cyclist is killed every ten days in Rio de Janeiro. Once to the ferry, in addition to the R$2.80 passenger fee, the intrepid cyclist must pay an additional R$4.70 for the bike! R$15 for a two way passage. Ridiculous and illegal according to a judgment handed down in June.

To make the ridiculous something else, in order to take one’s bike onto the ferry I was told I had to roll through the disembarkation where I fought against a literal human tide in order to put my bike on the waiting platform. After parting the crowd, I arrived on the platform and handed my baggage ticket to security. Just then, the bell signaling immediate departure tolled, but not for me. I had my boarding ticket in hand and wanted to take my bike and enter the ferry. In an amazing leap of logistics, I proffered said ticket to the security guard but in an equally stunning leap backwards he told me that I had to leave my bike with him, return to the front of the terminal, pass through the turnstiles, go back to where I was at that very moment, hand over my ticket stub, and then take my bike onto the ferry. I argued. The Napoleonic supervisor arrived, chest inflated with absolute rules to follow, absolutely. I huffed and puffed while the boat left without me.

Is there a greater dis-stimulus to riding a bike in this city than charging more than twice as much to bring a bike across the bay? To make matters worse, riding a bike in Niterói is far more dangerous than it is in Rio. As I was formally complaining to Barcas S.A., I was told that this dance-around-the-turnstile practice was formalized after some idiot decided to ride his bike onto the ferry and ended up hurting someone. This is the problem: the policies and rules of most public spaces and entities in Brazil are designed to attend to the lowest possible level of human decision making, that is, the idiots rule or the rule of the idiots. To wit, one idiot does something idiotic with a bike, the rest of us are treated like idiots who have to follow idiotic and inflexible rules designed to relieve anyone who receives a salary from having to take any responsibility for what happens under their watch.

Idiotic transportation practice #2: the new BRT lines will have no bicycle lanes. Even though the Glorious Prince of Rio de Janeiro likes to show off on his bike and skateboard from time to time, there is no safe, functional way of getting around this city on a bike, nor will there be, even though it is in practice much faster to go between most of Rio’s Zona Sul neighborhoods by bike than it is by bus, metro, or car. The OGloBobo reports about the city being “disposed” to bike traffic only showed pictures from the bike path in Botafogo and Flamengo. They must take us for idiots, which I suppose we are. The only days that you can put a bike on the Metro are Sundays and feriados and there is no bus in the city that has the capacity for bikes, nor will there be. This idiotic lack, combined with the increasingly insane and maddening traffic situation in the city, will eventually clog the city so tightly that not even Dick Cheney’s heart surgeon will be able to fix the problem.

Next up: more idiocy from RIOTOUR, the FERJ pigs at the trough, Orlando Silva in the crosshairs. 


gregzinho said...

To ease the pain a little, join the Federação Estadual de Ciclismo de Rio de Janeiro (40 reais per year or something reasonable). Your membership card states the federal law that guarantees bikes the right to ride on intermunicipal transport free of charge. I brandish it at Praça XV and board with a few extra reais, though still the crazy boarding schemes.

Also, on more than one occasion, I have boarded a city bus with handicap accesibility. As long as there are no wheelchair passengers on board, the bike can go there. While I'd also appreciate front loaded bike racks, I'm not sure I trust the motoristas ...

Bikes are also allowed on the metro after 2 pm on Saturdays, though should be allowed at all off peak times, of course!

Not following the Curitiba model, where you see more bikes than buses in the BRT lanes is a shame, esp since the highest rates of bike commuting are in the far Zona Oeste (Campo Grande, Santa Cruz).

Finally, last Friday of every month is Rio's Critical Mass, known as Bicicletada. Leaves from Cinelandia with such chants as "Eu pedalo todo dia / eu não pago academia!"

I am surprised it is only every 10 days that a cyclist dies. On two wheels, Rio is definitely more savage megalopolis than tropical seductress. But I still get from A to B faster ...

RIOTmedia said...

Ah dear Niteroi, I too recently visited there after a period of absence to find the formally 24hr Barca had canceled its night service.

In earlier more civilised days I had pondered the feasibility of my frequent 4am ferry rides back to Praca XV and had assumed the benevolence of State owned transport. Alas I was wrong.

Thankfully for us on the lower rungs of the financial ladder there does exist an extensive bus service, however nothing is easy in Rio.

At the terminal nobody seemed to have heard of the Linha 741D which connects Niteroi to Copacabana, I knew it existed because I have seen it...or was it just a dream.

Instead I caught the Linha 100 to Praca XV. Although I knew how to get back to Sul but I was conquered by self doubt after the ferry service cancellation and 3 days without sleep so I asked the ticket taker for a recommendation. Van from the Rodoviaria was the answer. She then promptly fell asleep, the maniac driver hammered past the Rodoviaria and by the time I got off the bus I had to traverse 6 empty downtown city blocks to find my saviour van.

Christopher Gaffney said...

thanks for the comments. The bike situation is bad, though I did take a ride yesterday from Jardim Botanico to Recreio and that was lovely though I can't count the number of times people stepped into the bike lane without looking. The prefeitura pays plenty of lip service to the right things (sometimes), but the stimulus is never there. There are new rent-a-bike posts going up in Copa and Ipanema, but these are surely para ingles ver, though if they actually work without having to stand in line for three hours to recharge a card, that'll be an improvement over the Unicard for buses and ferry. I'll continue to post more about the transporatation situation in Rio as I've got a long-term reearch porject underway that looks into the implementation of the BRT lines. Please keep the comments flowing, much appreciated!!


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