SÃO PAULO — An eagerly-awaited new cycle lane that runs along Brazil’s main business boulevard, Avenida Paulista, was inaugurated on Sunday by São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad.
The entire thoroughfare was closed to vehicles as thousands of people took over the streets on bikes and scooters in a vibrant festival of cycling.
Haddad said the major new 2.7-kilometer (1.7-mile) cycle lane, which received $3.9 million (12.2 million reais) of government funding, was a “symbol of quality of life” in the city.
“The new cycle lane is an example from the city of São Paulo of a gesture toward sustainable future in Brazil,” the São Paulo mayor told Anadolu Agency (AA).
The mayor, who is a member of President Dilma Rousseff’s embattled Workers’ Party, was briefly booed and heckled by protesters over accusations of corruption against the government and state-run oil giant Petrobras.
Haddad said the protest was legitimate, but that the cycle lane should not be politicized. It should, he said, be “embraced by all parties.”
Keen cyclist Helen de Menezes, 36, told the AA that the inauguration marked an “important, historic day, whatever your political party”: “I think it’s a policy that whoever wants to lead São Paulo will have to maintain.”
Fellow bike enthusiast Amaraldo Ribeiro, a 60-year-old retired businessman, said the new bike lane “sends a good message to the world about São Paulo”: “However, we need to get more cars off the roads, reduce pollution, clean up the streets, and get people fit.”
The new raised bike lane is the government’s centerpiece to wider efforts to expand São Paulo’s network of cycle routes and alleviate the city’s famous traffic jams, which regularly exceed 200km (125 miles).
With the new Avenida Paulista route, the city now boasts 334.9 kilometers (208 miles) of cycle lanes. The local government wants to increase this to 400km with investment of a further $25.5 million (80 million reais).
Despite the vast network, cycling in the city — Brazil’s largest and most populous — is notoriously dangerous: some 47 people were killed in 2014 alone, up 34 percent on 2013, with many more injured.
“Bike Zona Sul” activist Ianca Loureiro, 28, said the new central bike lane was a step in the right direction in terms of safety:
“Many people have been run over. We’re here today to celebrate this new cycle lane, long demanded by cyclists because not just here on Avenida Paulista but across São Paulo the situation is barbaric,” she told AA.
Loureiro is one of a group of activists who brought sobering reminders to Sunday’s inauguration that many cyclists have already paid with their lives in São Paulo: bikes painted white and decorated with flowers were displayed along the route labeled with names of killed cyclists.
“We simply don’t want to see any more of these bikes … they remind us that it could have been us,” she said.