It went on a diet.
Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aries – a triumphant boulevard (map here) that is by some accounts the widest street in the world. Two parts to the picture everyone knows: One is the towering Obelisk commemorating the founding of Buenos Aires. The other is the 20 lanes of traffic commemorating the city’s love of cars.
In the past year, half of that image has changed dramatically. City work crews ripped out four of those traffic lanes in the middle of the roadway. In just seven months, they gave the space entirely to buses and the people who ride them.
Just as interesting as what’s happening on 9 de Julio are the changes going on just a few steps away from it. Buses used to run on the narrow and busy downtown streets nearby. Now, those buses have been diverted to the exclusive lanes on 9 de Julio. And the city has turned about 100 blocks of those once noisy and polluted roads into either fully pedestrianized streets or pedestrian priority zones. The latter allow for vehicles but only at speeds of under 10 km/h and with special permits issued only to those who have parking spaces within the zone.
The busiest part of the city is thus becoming a pleasant place to go for a walk. Early in the morning, it’s possible to hear birds singing and the patter of footsteps on pavement. …
Dietrich, the city’s undersecretary for transport, says 90 percent of those who move around the city are pedestrians. But previously, 70 percent of the space downtown was used by cars and buses. Now that distribution has basically been flipped around in the pedestrian-priority zones. The city also has added 130 km of bike lanes.
There is still plenty of space to drive in Buenos Aires. But what’s happening here represents something of a rebalancing between cars and everything else.
There’s also this, for the Department of Irony:
Some drivers complained that left turns from the roadway would become impossible. And inevitably, the project got swept up in national politics: Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires and the bus route’s champion, is a political opponent of the current president of Argentina.
Now that the bus system is operational, most of the opposition has gone away. That’s because it’s helped to unclog traffic and reduced travel times for just about everybody traveling through the area. Travel time is down for buses by 50 percent, for minibuses (private buses that make fewer stops) by 45 percent, and for cars by 20 percent.
Note the examples typical of transportation politics: the threat to motordom, the predictions of carmageddon, the conflict between local and senior governments, the trauma of change – and the ultimate success, even for drivers, when a better balance is achieved.