Capital of the state of Parana, Curitiba sits at 1000m, about 400km southwest of Sao Paulo. Its population is roughly 2 million. The city is well-known in urban planning circles for the care with which its growth has been planned and directed. It's a model for cities in developing countries with limited resources. I decided I would check it out for myself.

The masterplan's centerpiece is the so-called trolley-bus system. Elongated buses run on reserved lanes. Passengers pay their fare before-hand and wait in above-ground tubes. The bus pulls up and people board quickly. There's no annoying wait while old ladies fumble with their change purse. The system nearly achieves the speed and efficiency of a subway without the expense of digging.

The stations are literally tubes. It feels a little silly to be waiting in one of these glassed-in enclosures, but the gain in efficiency of boarding and off-boarding makes it worth it. The buses are "bi-articulated" which means they have two of those accordion thingies connecting the sections.

The tubes can get crowded at rush-hour, but they certainly have consistent aesthetic. The design of the system dates to the 1970s.

The busy stations downtown are longer. The standard tube out in the neighborhoods is only about half the length of the bus. There are five doors. People board in the middle one, the third, while others get off through doors two and four, which are spaced to be outside of the tube. Each tube has a human attendant to take the fare. This only works in a low-wage country.

At the terminals, where riders connect to conventional buses, all five doors open.

The buses are a little cramped and shabby. For all the ingenuity that has gone into the system's design one still feels something of the profound unsexiness of riding on a bus.

The heavy red lines are the trolley-bus routes. The heavy dots are the terminals where riders transfer to other bus types. There are feeder lines connecting to outlying neighborhoods, circular routes traveling between neighborhoods, and Linha Direita buses which travel between terminals without stopping. This last type is the most interesting. My biggest complaint about city buses is that they stop too damn often. The Linha Direita lines are almost as quick as taking a cab.

These are the reserved lanes for the line along Ave. Pe. Anchieta. Locally they're called canaletas. As opposed to an elevated train which casts an ominous shadow, these lanes are benign and oddly quiet. Tho they're prohibited from doing so, bicyclists will use these lanes since one bus every five minutes is a lot safer to deal with than an avenue full of crazy drivers.

Zoning has been integrated into the transport plan. Tall buildings are permitted only along the trolley-bus routes. This is the same Ave. Pe. Anchieta seen from the Telemar tower. The line of buildings creates a sort of urban wall. Along the avenue you've got dense city life with tall-buildings and lots of ground-level retail. Walk two blocks away from the avenue and you're in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood of single-family homes.

I also liked the city name logo on all the buses; lower-case, off-center.

Some Sights

Novegenarian Oscar Niemeyer continues to pump out wacky looking buildings. Completed in 2002, it's called Museu Oscar Niemeyer in what seems an embarrassing admission that they have no collection. Not surprisingly it has acquired nicknamed "The Eye". Still, it's cool to look at and at least my tax dollars [or reais] didn't pay for it.
One enters "The Eye" through an underground, sort of fallopian, tunnel, after which you enter a Kubrickian space of white concrete and florescent lights. And there's art too.

More traditional sites: the colonial center & botanical garden.

More on Curitiba

Frontline has a good feature giving an overview of the city's master plan including social services as well as transport.

Solutions Site describes the bus system in detail, describing its evolution, the problems that have come up on the way and how they were solved.

Wikipedia on Bus Rapid Transit, the success of Curitiba has led the idea to be copied in many cities around the world. For transit nuts this is a good start for all about BRT.

My blog.

June 27, 2005.