To cross a street can be a real challenge in Brazil. In this article you will learn how to behave and what precautions you need to take when being a pedestrian in the country.
In Brazil, depending on the place where you are trying to get to the other side of the street, you can spend a lot of time waiting for cars and motorcycles to stop for you to walk. Traffic in Brazil can be very different from city to city, and at the same time that you can have a lot of traffic lights and other pedestrian signals to make sure you will get to the other side of the street safely, there are also situations in which you will have to take some risks in order to get to the other side of the street.
In some parts of Brazil, traffic seem like a competition to get a piece of the streets, specially in the cities with a large fleet of cars, trucks, buses and any other types of vehicle that you can imagine. In smaller towns, or in more remote places where there is no sufficient infrastructure, vehicles and people may also compete for their spaces, sometimes risking their lives and the lives of others in order to keep making their ways.
Roads in Brazil
Brazil has only 13% of paved roads, which places the country in the last position between the 20 largest economies of the world. Just for comparison, the United States have 4,37 million kilometer of paved highways, while Brazil has only 214 thousand kilometer – which is 20 times less than what the US have. In places where the roads aren't paved, there are no street lights, pedestrian crossings or any other kind of pedestrian signs, and to cross a street actually becomes risky.
Even paved Brazilian roads don't offer safety to the pedestrians. Considering that there are no traffic lights for pedestrian crossing in the highways, there are usually separate bridges for pedestrians to cross from one side of the road to the other. However, these bridges are usually far from each other, which obliges people to walk long distances to reach it and then cross the road safely. To avoid walking more than the necessary, people cross the roads between the cars.
But it is not only in highways that people try to walk between the cars. In big cities too. The problem with this practice is that motorcycles usually drive between the lanes and sometimes it is not possible to see them coming depending on the side of the car that you are standing. Try to avoid crossing the street far from the pedestrian crossing even when the traffic is stuck, because you can never know when a motorcycle will come in high speed making its way through the cars.
In paved streets, the type of pedestrian crossing used in Brazil is the zebra crossing. It is the place where people are supposed to cross the streets, even though a lot of pedestrians just ignore this fact and try to cross the paths between the automobiles, out of the pedestrian crossing. In a research published in April, 2013, 72% of the Brazilians interviewed admitted crossing streets out of the pedestrian crossing. The Brazilian Traffic Code, known as Código Brasileiro de Trânsito or CTB, says that pedestrians who disrespect the traffic signs must pay a fee, but there is no supervision and the fees are never charged.
São Paulo, for instance, is a very chaotic city when the subject is traffic. There, it is necessary to wait until the street light gets red for cars in order to cross the street. And, even so, it is really important to look at both sides – even when it is a one-way street – to be completely sure that it is safe to walk without getting caught by a driver, a motorcyclist or even a cyclist that doesn't respect the traffic signs.
Mutual Disrespect and Accidents
Lately, in São Paulo city, there has been an movement that encourages pedestrians to make a sign from the sidewalks in order to ask vehicles to stop, so that the person could cross the street. This is something that happens in cities like Curitiba, in Paraná, but it's a really rare habit in the country, since there are people claiming to be too shy to make the sign and there are others that don't even know what sign they have to do to ask cars to stop.
In the same way that vehicles don't respect their traffic lights, there are also pedestrians who don't care if they are allowed by the signs to cross the street or not: they just walk, whether it is in the zebra crossing or in the middle of the street. The disrespect between pedestrians and drivers is a huge issue of big cities that have a lot of vehicles in the streets, and it is also the cause of a lot of accidents and deaths.
In São Paulo, in 2011, there were registered 5,394 deaths by accidents, and from these, 2,114 were pedestrians, against 1,721 motorcyclists, 1,273 passengers of automotive vehicles and 286 cyclists. This represents an increase in 9% in the amount of deaths compared to 2010, when there were 1,968 pedestrians dead due to run overs.
Don't think, however, that only because you are crossing the street that you will get preference, even if you are walking on the zebra crossing. A lot of drivers don't respect the crossing preference and sometimes pedestrians don't even look before they cross, increasing even more the number of accidents.
It is important to be careful when there are bikes on the streets. In small cities, they are usual means of transportation for citizens, but in big cities, people aren't used to drive them – or to share the roads with them.
In the past few years there has been an increase in the number of people who use bikes to go to and from work or college, but usually there is no infrastructure in the paths for both vehicles and bikes to share the ways. Consequently, the number of accidents involving cyclists became a routine in the big centers, such as Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, where, in 2012, 52 cyclists died due to accidents, which corresponds to one death per week. In Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais, there were registered 50 accidents with cyclist per month in 2011.
There are being made campaigns in order to make people aware of bikes entering the traffic. Also, there are urbanologists and other specialists thinking in possible ways of allowing cyclists to drive their bikes in the big cities with more safety.
Cyclists must also respect the space of pedestrians and automotives. When crossing the streets, for instance, they must dismount and walk their bikes, which is something that a lot of cyclist don't do. Respecting the traffic lights and the traffic signs is essential to decrease the chances of getting involved in an accident.