Rio de Janeiro is no stranger to mega-events, such as its infamous New Year’s Day celebration that attracted two million partiers to its Copacabana streets and beaches on Thursday. Whether it be the annual Carnival, the Papal visit in 2013, or the FIFA World Cup in 2014, the city has braced for and then recovered from an onslaught of millions each time.
The upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics, the first ever held in South America, has this city of 6.5 million busily preparing once again. Over two million Olympics visitors are expected to celebrate this quadrennial sports showcase – a 17-day spectacle that will stretch the limits of a city transportation system that is still under construction.
With forethought, traffic planners got the wheels in motion in 2012 by seeking funding approval for four major transit projects that would construct:
- Several Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) lanes to specially transport fans among the four Olympic zones.
- An additional subway line (Line 4) to extend from Ipanema to the southwestern Barra da Tijuca zone,
- A Light Rail Tram (LRT) to run from the city airport into the city center, and an
- Extended bike path network
Fast forward a few years, and these transportation solutions are nearing completion – just in time for the Rio Summer Games in August. But Rio has paid a price for this progress.
Last April, for the second year in a row, Rio was ranked by the TomTom technology company as having the third worst traffic congestion in the world, right after Istanbul and Mexico City. This dubious distinction comes as no surprise to the worn-out cariocas whose lives have been disrupted by traffic bottlenecks, road closures, and circuitous detours – nearly doubling their commuting times.
Rio Olympics communications director Mario Andrada said a few months ago to Sports Illustrated, “We are the last country in the universe anyone would expect to be on time and on budget, yet here we are.” So maybe surprisingly, three of the four projects are indeed progressing well, and will be ready in time for the Summer Games. Contrast this to the 2014 World Cup where only six of the planned transit initiatives across Brazil completed on-time.
The one roadblock still lingering is the completion of the new southern, subway line that requires tunneling through Rio’s mountains. On December 22, Rio’s transport secretary Carlos Roberto Osório implored that funds from Brazil’s strapped federal budget be released so that construction can further progress.
Still, despite these improvements, on any given day during the Olympic run spanning from August 5 – 21, millions will be contending for seats (or even standing room spots) on packed subway cars and buses. Alternatively, tens of thousands may opt for taxis to haul them to the venues along congested roads.
However, Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes’ pet project may very well be the golden ticket to getting around in a pinch. The city government plans to stretch the current dedicated bike lanes from 376 to 450 kilometers this year. And the beach route between Barra da Tijuca and Ipanema may prove to be the refreshing break frazzled travelers need from the frenzied traffic.
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