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The path towards Complete Streets according to the experiences of three cities

Changing standards that are so deeply rooted in the street design of Brazilian cities calls for major effort and commitment. There are many challenges in transforming a normal street into a Complete Street, in other words, to adapt the existing infrastructure to permit more efficient use and focusing on user safety and comfort. The experiences of three Brazilian cities that are planning their Complete Streets provide insight into some of the leading challenges and offer several solutions that have helped move these projects forward.

The cities are Campinas, Recife and Porto Alegre and their respective projects: José Paulino Street, Rua da Hora and João Alfredo Street. The managers directly involved provide insight into certain key factors to successfully implement a Complete Street.

Several concurring points become apparent in statements by Marcelo José Vieira Oliveira, manager of the Campinas Urban Mobility Innovation and Technology Division (DPI/EMDEC); Sideney Schreiner, Recife’s executive director for Mobility Planning for the Pelópolis Silveira City Institute; and Rodrigo Corradi, the director of Institutional Articulation and Resilience for the Municipal Department of Institutional Relations (SMRI) of Porto Alegre.

Engagement of the population and decision makers

Having the population on board is key to transforming urban spaces. A Complete Street is designed to offer benefits to all those using it and, as such, must be implemented with the understanding and participation of citizens. However, changes also generate doubts and fears among those using the spaces, an issue that should be dealt with in the project.

“The project introduces concepts that are still new to the Brazilian culture, such as the right of way reserved for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, which take preference over other modes. This innovative focus, and the inclusion of so many specific points of view in the debate surrounding the project, could be seen by some as a potential hurdle. However, we see things differently. There certainly are major challenges, but the Campinas Municipal Development Company – EMDEC – feels they are also the greatest virtue of this project, as they provide powerful leverage”, stated Vieira Oliveira. Popular participation involving vendors, residents and users of the street has been an important element throughout the work on Rua José Paulino.

Sideney A. Schreiner, de Recife. (Foto: Daniel Hunter/WRI Brasil)To Schreiner (photo on the right), one of the biggest obstacles to the project in Recife has been resistance among the population, and even city administrative technicians, concerning the proposed reduction in the amount of space occupied by cars. “The technicians, who mostly drive private cars as their chief means of transport, are still firmly against the idea of reducing the area used by cars or the implementation of safe junctions due to the impact of these actions on the flow of traffic”, he says. Backed by data, the city is currently taking steps to convince decision makers at the level of government with agendas related to urban mobility.

On João Alfredo Street, in Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, difficulties have arisen as a result of the changes to the street in recent decades. Located in a neighborhood that has become renowned for its bustling nightlife, residents of 30 or 40 years feel the region, once considered residential, is losing its identity. “Property use has slowly changed with time and tension has built up in the neighborhood. The debate is being carried forward transversally within the region”, explains Corradi. "Rua João Alfredo is a microcosm part of a much wider debate taking place within the neighborhood. The entire territory is being redefined, giving new meaning to how we cope with diversity within mixed use spaces. When this happens, instead of coming together, the different stakeholders tend to stray towards adversarial relationships.”

The city is working to converse with the population my means of the Cidade Baixa Work Group, an initiative officially created last year, but which, according to Corradi, was consolidated with the Complete Streets project. “We need to focus on joining perspectives. And this has been the most complicated part of the project, though also the most interesting and most challenging”, he points out. “While the Cidade Baixa Work Group is attempting to introduce an element of governance in the region, the Complete Streets project is trying to create an efficient urban solution. And that’s why the project is able to tackle issues that the Work Group can’t.”

Alignment among municipal departments

Alignment among the different departments of city administration is vital to the project’s success. A Complete Street project can involve sectors related to mobility, urban planning, infrastructure works, health and education, among others, depending on the structure of each city. Efficient institutional integration within the municipality increases process fluidity.

According to Vieira Oliveira, the Complete Streets project influenced the work undertaken by Campinas city administration by leveraging inter-departmental integration. “Through their routines and within their specific fields of expertise, we don’t always see the interaction necessary for this type of project”, he explained. “In the outlook of the EMDEC, the success of a Complete Street calls for the active involvement and participation of all. This naturally bolsters the interests and involvement of each of the parties, who now view themselves as a real part of the process and the solution. In the specific case of Rua José Paulino, which relies on many of the competencies of city administration and other public and private companies, this articulation is fundamental to the success and completeness of the project.”

In Porto Alegre, Mr. Corradi (photo to the left) revealed that following a period of internal process validation, everything is now operationally articulated. “We have established a work group to implement Complete Streets, we have achieved alignment with decision makers and responsibilities have been very clearly defined in terms of who heads technical management and who oversees political management. We also have several departments that are currently working on specific solutions and transforming them into public policy for the region.”

In Schreiner’s view, transforming the Rua da Hora project into reality is a change that begins with the institutional structure of city administration itself. “Issues like sidewalks and cycling lanes cannot be treated as infrastructure issues separate from mobility. And mobility cannot merely be treated as the operation of motorized (individual and collective) modes of transport. Similarly, planning and operation must be clearly outlined, with each considering all the aspects of urban mobility”, he stated.

Financing

The financial viability of projects is one of the leading challenges faced by cities. All three cities are organizing business models as part of their strategy to financially structure projects. The process is another means to attain alignment among sectors, as a Complete Street integrates several urban infrastructures.

“One of our biggest hurdles has been the municipality’s ability to raise the necessary external investments, as we currently lack programs, especially federal programs, that favor initiatives of this type”, affirmed Mr. Vieira Oliveira (photo to the left). Schreiner also feels there is a lack of financial options for integrated projects like those proposed through the Complete Streets concept. “In my opinion, this is the result of an exaggerated stratification of operation and maintenance responsibilities for urban infrastructure, which is reflected in financing policies, especially at the level of the Federal Government”, he explained.

The Complete Streets scales of intervention help estimate the investment required for each project. Development can range from anything like intermediary intervention, which may last 1 to 5 years, up to definitive infrastructure works. One of the Complete Streets Online Seminars covered financing Complete Streets and presented tips on how to source funds for this type of project, touching on strategies like partnerships and the creation of programs that permit access to a wide platform of resources from financial institutions.

Complete Streets in the urban planning

Campinas, Porto Alegre and Recife don’t see the Complete Streets project as an isolated initiative, but rather a new way of looking at mobility. In Campinas, the transformation of José Paulino Street was strategically located in the very center of the city, which is expected to increase land value under the new Master Plan. This recently published plan provides several concepts of Complete Streets, such as the appreciation of public space, environmental qualification, greater emphasis on pedestrians and accessibility, among others. “José Paulino Street as a Complete Street will serve as a model and contributor to the city. Improving mobility and road safety, with a focus on the transformation of José Paulino Street, is most certainly a priority for the city”, said Vieira Oliveira.

“I see Rua da Hora as a pilot project. It’s a case study to identify the challenges and prepare the whole process for planning, designing and execution for this new outlook on urban space management. The Recife Mobility Plan has already adopted the Complete Streets concept as part of its implementation strategy. The idea is that road projects become integrated from the perspective of Complete Streets so that all actions are defined by the Plan”, emphasized Schreiner.

“We expect the Complete Streets model to gain leverage with the review of the city Mobility Plan and that, based on the Complete Streets methodology, it can be incorporated into our active mobility strategy. We want to use Complete Streets as a tool to induce a fresh way of thinking about mobility management in the city, in which active mobility can help attract further investments”, explained Corradi.

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