December 01, 2014

What Can São Paulo and New York Teach Each Other?

Jon Orcutt From Big City to Bike City

As two of the biggest cities in the Western hemisphere, New York City and São Paulo have a lot they can learn from each other. Though they face unique challenges related to improving sustainable transport, they share common goals of making the streets safer and more comfortable for cyclists and pedestrians. Recently, US expert Jon Orcutt visted São Paulo to meet with city officials and civil society groups to share his experience working on some of New York City’s most successful road safety and cycling infrastructure projects.

As the Director of Public Policy for the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007 to 2014, Jon Orcutt was responsible for coordinating New York City’s “Vision Zero” road safety plan. In addition, he worked on programs including NYC’s Sustainable Streets, Weekend Walks, Summer Streets, the revitalization of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, and the launch of the CitiBike bike-share program. As São Paulo leaders and residents show increased interest in improving walking and cycling conditions, Orcutt’s insights into the process of implementing programs large and small will help local officials reach their goals.

Jon Orcutt Biking Sao Paulo“Jon’s experience, as someone who occupied key positions in both civil society organizations and with the mayor of New York, shows that increasingly, society and governments are seeking to build new models of the city,” says Thiago Benicchio of ITDP Brazil.

While in São Paulo, Orcutt met with São Paulo Transportation Commissioner Jilmar Tatto, as well as several directors of the Traffic Engineering Company (CET). Together, they discussed strategies and details for implementing ambitious bike network expansions in the next few years. São Paulo’s CicloviaSP plan is a network of 400 kilometers, which the city hopes to implemented in the next 1.5 years. New York City recently added 200 miles of new bike paths in just over two years, and has plans to continue expanding. To achieve these goals and gain public support, strong leadership, communication, and design should  be accompanied by gathering data on the impacts and benefits of the projects.

In addition, Orcutt hosted a talk for the public, discussing “Activism and Public Policy.” The meeting, organized by ITDP Brazil and Ciclocidade, provided an opportunity to discuss the organization and mobilization of civil society and their role in advocating for safer streets. Input from community groups, as well as cycling and pedestrian advocates, can inform strong policy, and help officials build momentum for creating better living conditions and mobility in cities.

“The process of implementing bike paths in New York has similarities to that of São Paulo,” said Orcutt. “Both plans are made to move quickly and on a large scale. [In New York,] with that came a backlash. It’s important that political leadership stand strong against the first wave of criticism and follow through in pursuing the goal.”

As these two cities strive for strong infrastructure for non-motorized transit, sharing successes and strategies will help officials and civil society alike reach their goals with more public support, and stronger results.


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