Reducing Speeds in Sao Paulo, Brazil Leads to Record Low Traffic Fatalities
The number of traffic fatalities in Sao Paulo, Brazil fell by 20.6 percent from 2014 to 2015, resulting in 257 saved lives. This is the lowest rate since 1998, when the Brazilian Traffic Code was first released.
The drop in road fatalities is the result of recent efforts to improve urban mobility by developing policies and investing in safe infrastructure, which WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities has supported through studies, strategic workshops, seminars and design guidelines. In 2013, the city launched the Life Protection Program (PPV), which focuses on making roads safer for all users, especially the most vulnerable—pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Since then, the city has introduced a series of changes, including citywide speed limit reductions, diagonal crossings and pedestrian-only zones.
Sao Paulo’s Speed Reductions Improve Safety for All
Sao Paulo’s recent efforts are part the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety’s goal to reduce traffic fatalities by 50 percent by 2020. Traffic crashes will have killed or incapacitated more people than wars, tuberculosis and HIV combined by 2020, and at least one thousand young people die in traffic accidents around the world every day.
Achieving this goal by 2020 will mean reducing the number of deaths in Sao Paulo to six per 100,000 residents. In December 2014, the rate was 10.47. In December 2015, the rate had dropped to a record 8.26.
Of all the city’s actions to improve safety, one of the most impactful was the 2015 reduction of the speed limit along most arterial streets and important corridors, including Marginal Tiete and Pinheiros—two of Sao Paulo's busiest avenues. On both highways, the speed limits were reduced from 90 km/h to 70 km/h for light vehicles and from 70 km/h to 60 km/h for heavy vehicles. For all types of vehicles, the central lanes of Marginal Tiete dropped from 90 km/h to 70 km/h, and local lanes on both avenues saw speed reductions from 70 km/h to 50 km/h.
Comparing 2014 data with the new 2015 data, the study notes a drop in the number of deaths among cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians. Over this period, the number of cyclist deaths dropped 34 percent, from 47 to 31, and the number of pedestrian deaths dropped 24.5 percent, from 555 to 419. Similarly, the number of driver deaths fell by 16.9 percent, from 207 to 172, and the number of motorcycle deaths fell 15.9 percent, from 440 to 370. These reductions were the result of a shift from a focus only on private vehicles to a greater concern for all modes.
Additionally, the city implemented eleven “Areas 40,” which reduced the speed limited to 40 km/h (25 mph) on select streets in areas with high pedestrian and commercial activity. The first to be implemented, “Centro” recorded 71 percent fewer road fatalities and injuries after the new limits were adopted. As the Municipal Transportation Secretary, Jilmar Tatto explained, “We are focused on the mobility of people, not vehicles. We need to tackle the problem by reducing speed limits, increasing surveillance, providing safe infrastructure for cyclists, improving sidewalks and building dedicated bike lanes.”
A Partnership for Road Safety
In 2014, ten cities were selected to be part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety. From 2015 to 2019, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities has been supporting the city Sao Paulo to plan and implement policies and programs designed to improve road safety and urban mobility. One of the partnership’s first actions was a strategic alignment workshop in August 2015. The event brought together a working group on mobility and road safety that was established through the Bloomberg Initiative to outline a plan of action to guide initiatives in the city.
A study by WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities supports Sao Paulo’s strategy to improve safety by reducing speed limits. The report finds that a 5 percent reduction in vehicle speeds can result in 30 percent fewer fatal accidents. Lower speeds increase the chances that drivers, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to navigate the road safely. The study provides data that reinforce the city administration’s decision to reduce speed limits and clearly show the benefits of road safety measures.
In December, a workshop about safety and accessibility on roads and bus corridors provided a forum for a range of stakeholders from different backgrounds to discuss ongoing projects as well as case studies. The WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities team presented best practices in safe bus lane designs from the Road Safety Manual for Priority Systems for Buses.
Within the city's changing urban environment, the media plays a vital role in educating the general public. Changes that impact vehicle use may initially be unpopular, as the public may not feel or perceive the benefits of new measures immediately. In order to foster a public dialogue, the WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities team supported the City Hall Communication Secretary of Sao Paulo in briefing local journalists and media representatives about the recent speed reductions. The workshop helped to improve the public’s understanding of the benefits of these kinds of measures, putting the road safety agenda in context and answering questions about the recent changes.
Workshops like these highlight the role that civil society plays in ensuring that road safety measures are implemented, accepted and understood. In December last year, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities held a seminar bringing together experts from the UK, Australia and Brazil to discuss the challenges and opportunities of speed reduction in cities around the world.
With the new data showing a significant drop in the number of traffic-related fatalities and accidents, Sao Paulo now has further evidence to demonstrate the impact of reducing speeds. Ensuring the safety of the most vulnerable users may prove challenging, but it is critical for creating cities that are safer and more equitable for all.
About EMBARQ at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities
EMBARQ, Sustainable Urban Mobility by WRI, catalyzes and helps implement environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable urban mobility solutions to improve quality of life in cities.