Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bike-Blogging from São Paulo

In today's Folha de São Paulo there's a brief editorial column about bicycle culture in Paris. The author, Clôvis Rossi, describes a married couple arriving at a fancy hotel on bicycles as a way of introducing Paris's Vélib or free bike service. Like other cities around the world, Paris now has approximately 20 thousand bikes at over 14 hundred stations throughout the city for rent with the first half-hour free. Awesome! (A little voice in my head nags: "but what about bike fit?" which I'll ignore for now.) Rossi muses about what this could means for traffic in such large cities like São Paulo (which is, btw, one of the largest cities in the world):

É um modelo copiável? Do ponto de vista ambiental, parece interessante. Mas você acha que São Paulo é suficientemente civilizada para que carros e motos não atropelam os ciclistas?

Or in English:

Is it a copiable model? From a distanced perspective, it looks interesting. But do you think that São Paulo is civilized enough that cars and motorcycles wouldn't run over cyclists?

I've got to say, I'm not surprised by the author's doubt. Unlike Rio de Janeiro, there is no ciclovia or specially designated bike lane here. There isn't even enough space in the right lane for cyclists to ride independent of traffic patterns. Cyclists here are the craziest bunch I've ever seen, literally riding in the middle of traffic. They often ride mountain bikes with good reason: it allows them more flexibility to jump up on bumpy sidewalks. If any of my loyal readers ever thought that I was crazy to ride around LA, I present to you the craziness that is São Paulo cycling culture.

A few years ago (before I spoke a word of Portuguese), the Folha ran an article about a reporter's experiences on a bike for a month of his working life. Not only was he robbed, but he was constantly afraid for his life as cars would frequently cut him off. A motorcycle delivery boy (known here as "motorboy") witnessed such an occurence and expounded: "nobody here respects (the rights of) cyclists." Well, to be fair, they don't respect pedestrians either.

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