The Porto Maravilha Urban Operation faces two great challenges to requalify the Port Region. The first concerns parameters and premises of the new urbanization pattern to be implemented, which has among its principal elements a new model of urban mobility. The second is that the implementation process involves construction works for urban requalification in some of the major routes of the city, which need to be kept partially functioning in order to cause the least possible impact for the population. In fact, the second is related to the first. This testimony offers a picture of these challenges and how they are being overcome.


The Port Region of Rio de Janeiro is unique for its historical importance and strategic location, characteristics that give the area a high development potential. The building of the Perimetral viaduct considerably aggravated the urban and environmental deterioration that began with the emptying of activities of the support area of the Port of Rio. Since these two elements, port neighborhoods undertook a subordinate function in the city and the Metropolitan Region. The historical value of the area was forgotten and, thus, the Port Region became a transit route. As a convergence point for transportation to Downtown, this area of the city lives, personifies and testifies the daily chaos of traffic jams.

The Perimetral viaduct was inaugurated during the 1970s, a time when large viaducts appeared as an urban traffic strategy in major cities around the world. At that time, individual transportation was the top priority. The viaduct would be a solution to connect the principal routes of the Metropolitan Region arriving at Caju through Gasômetro viaduct and Aterro do Flamengo, in order to facilitate access to Downtown. However, in the late 1980s, this route was already saturated with daily and ever worse traffic jams during rush hours. Ever since, the viaduct has not efficiently fulfilled the function for which it was built in the first place. According to the Neighborhood Impact Study (NIS) of Porto Maravilha (Reference nº1), which was completed in June 2013, the average daily traffic in both directions of the viaduct is 76,664 cars per day. The limit should be 58,000 vehicles per day, in order to conform to desirable environmental patterns.

During all these years, the saturation of Perimetral negatively impacts and contributes to traffic conditions in the central region of the city, with repercussions to the entire Metropolitan Region of Rio de Janeiro, causing as well environmental, social and economic damages. A recent study of Federação das Indústrias do Rio de Janeiro (Firjan) indicates that Rio loses about R$ 23 billion per year with traffic jams. And the Perimetral has a significant weight in this estimate. Another assessment of Fundação Dom Cabral verifies that each driver stuck in long traffic jams in Rio de Janeiro lost, on average, R$ 7,663.23 last year. Experts’ estimation considers the amount spent with extra fuel costs and through pollutant emission. Built as a symbol of a city projected more for cars than for people, and made of materials that would last 400 years, the Perimetral ceased to fulfill its function efficiently for the population of the city and of the Metropolitan Region in less than 25 years.

For many years, the government and cariocas in general had hoped to reverse this trend of deteriorating the environment and the historical heritage and of ever more chaotic traffic. In search of solutions, at least two major challenges emerged: what should and/or could be done and how to build the necessary conditions while maintaining the city functioning.

Regarding the first challenge, a few urban requalification proposals had already been sketched by the City Hall. Since 2009, detailed studies demonstrated the complexity of the situation. At the same time, these studies pointed toward innovative and sustainable solutions to transform that region in a reference of urban space integrated to quality of life. This set of actions is consolidated in the Consorted Urban Operation of the Port Region of Rio de Janeiro, known as Wonderful Port. 


Based on urban and environmental principals of use and occupation, on the increase of value of the material and immaterial patrimony, on integration and social inclusion, the Porto Maravilha Urban Operation represents a profound change in the dynamic of the region. The issue of social mobility stands out among the many aspects of the ongoing transformations of neighborhoods Saúde, Santo Cristo, Gamboa and parts of Downtown, Caju, São Cristóvão and Cidade Nova. The image of Downtown as an exclusively working place is set aside once having as premise the substantial increase of people living in the region. Today, there are 32 thousand people living in these neighborhoods. Assessments based on plans for real estate and commercial enterprises indicate a significant growth in the number of inhabitants, which is expected to rise to 100 thousand people until 2020. Thousands of people will cease to lose hours per day going from home to work, work to home. This represents a substantial improvement in terms of quality of life. The structure planned for the area is gigantic: more networks of essential public services, new areas for socializing, a resized roadway system and revised urban models. As a result, the revitalization has reconsidered occupation and its relation to local urban mobility with positive effects for the entire city.

The new roadway system planned for the Port Region changes the logic of mobility, currently centered on individual transportation, and gives importance to people with the creation of wide spaces for pedestrians and bikers (Reference nº 2). It's projected opening of 4 km of streets exclusively for pedestrians with rules of land occupation which determine as well the adoption of wide sidewalks. The construction of 17 km of bike lanes and the requirement for new buildings to set up public and private bike racks illustrate the shift in perspective associated to the concept of revitalization. That means people on the streets. The re-urbanization of this area follows the international trend of focusing on pedestrians and integrating transport modes in a sustainable way.

At the same time, public transport gains priority and planning in the mobility plan currently being implemented in the city of Rio de Janeiro. In fact, public transport becomes centered in the intelligent connection between modes. With interventions accompanied by the introduction of the systems of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Light Rail Vehicle (LRV) (Reference nº2), the central region of Rio de Janeiro will achieve a new pattern of urban mobility. Included in the Bilhete Único Carioca (Carioca Single Ticket) and in the Bilhete Único Metropolitano (Metropolitan Single Ticket), with its 28 km of tracks, the LRV - or, as some call, the modern tram - will interconnect subway, train, cable cars and ferryboat stations, the Santos Dumont Airport, besides cruise ship and bus terminals, including the Novo Rio Bus Station and 42 stops of the BRT. The LRV also innovates with the voluntary ticket validation as a form of payment, a new experience in Brazil.

The LRV will connect transport modes of the Port Region and Downtown and save an estimated amount of R$ 310 million per year. According to a study commissioned by the City Hall during the phase that anticipated the bidding, this amount corresponds to shorter travel time (R$ 235 million), less fuel consumption among passengers that will replace individual vehicles for public transportation (R$ 108 million), reduced carbon gas emission (R$ 3.5 million) and also lower accident rate (R$ 63.7 million). Once all six lines are in operation, the capacity of the system will reach up to 285 thousand passengers per day. Every car will be able to transport up to 415 passengers, and intervals between LRVs will vary from three to 15 minutes, depending on the line and the time. Also, LRVs will operate 24 hours per day, seven days a week, and are estimated to move at an average speed of 17 km/hour.

Initially, five units will be built in Spain with the purpose of meeting the deadline for beginning the operation. The other 27 trains will be built in Brazil through the technology transfer of the supplier, which is a gain to the country. The Rio Light Rail Vehicle (Reference nº 3) will be one of the first in the world completely projected without catenaries (cables for capturing electric energy from overhead wires). Energy supply will be made through the APS system (Alimentation par Sol) during stops on a third track, a system that was successfully implemented in many European cities. Basically, it is a model of ground-level power supply combined with a supercapacitor (energy storage).

This new pattern of urban mobility discourages individual transportation. However, even if they no longer are the top priority, automobiles continue to be used and urban metropolitan functions are considered by the new roadway system under implementation. The most relevant and controversial change is the substitution of the Perimetral viaduct. Technical studies demonstrate that removing the viaduct is essential for improving traffic conditions in the city and in the Metropolitan Region. The decision to replace elevated roads of this size is not an exotic or unsubstantiated idea. The Life and Death of Urban Highways Research of the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) (Reference nº2) - an organization focused on studies about the traffic of large cities - assessed that 17 cities of the United States, Europe and Asian countries already replaced their large viaducts. The reasons for removing viaducts around the world vary from the high costs for maintaining gigantic structures to the adoption of revitalization projects to recover areas that were deteriorated with the construction of these viaducts. The ITDP study confirms that viaducts are surpassed and expensive.

One of the examples the research shows is the case of San Francisco, in California, that replaced 2.6 km of elevated roads in its Port Region during the revitalization project. After controversy over the removal of a structure previously seen as important for traffic in that city, similar to what occurred in Rio de Janeiro, the place known as Embarcadero, in front of the piers, is currently one of the most visited sightseeing spots of the city. One of the areas with the highest rate of automobiles per inhabitants in the United States started then to rethink the use of fossil fuel vehicles, thus improving with the revitalization.

Seul, in South Korea, the seventh biggest urban agglomeration in the world, decided to substitute a 9.4 km viaduct structure. At that point, the city had lost almost half of its residents due to the deterioration caused by the viaduct. The conclusion is that the elevated road was not really a good solution for traffic or for the life of surrounding neighborhoods. After the work was completed, the population gained a river bank, quite used for leisure and tourism, where formerly was one of the most relevant urban roadways of the city.

The restoration of the Cheonggyecheon (CHEON - gey - cheon) stream after 50 years consistently shows how a great metropolis can modify its growth patterns, restoring an ancient and important urban stream to its natural role and opening much more interesting public spaces. The ITDP concludes in its research that environmental concerns are behind most of the initiatives to revise knowledge regarding urban mobility under the perspective of sustainability.

New roadway system

In the new roadway system, with the removal of Perimetral, Rodrigues Alves Avenue will be transformed into a Via Expressa (Expressway), part as tunnel and part on the surface. It will serve to those going through the area as a passage route. With the function to connect Aterro do Flamengo to Brazil Avenue and the Rio-Niterói Bridge, the Expressway will have 6,847 meters of length and three lanes on each direction. The Expressway Tunnel will have 3,022 meters, from the current “Mergulhão” at Square XV to Warehouse 8 at the Piers. The largest urban roadway tunnel of Brazil in length will exceed the largest underground gallery of the city, the Covanca Tunnel at Yellow Line Road. The underground part of the Expressway will enable the transformation of the path going from Square XV to Warehouse 8 into a large public walk for pedestrian, biker and LRV circulation. The project includes the installation of a linear park with a green area and spaces for socializing and leisure. Construction works of the Expressway are expected to be completed in 2016.

The project includes the installation of a linear park with a green area and spaces for socializing and leisure.

The Via Binário (Binary Road) of the Port, inaugurated in November 2013, has 3,500 meters of length. Parallel to Rodrigues Alves Avenue, the system offers three lanes on each direction and multiple exists for the internal distribution of traffic and accesses to downtown. The Binary Road also has two tunnels: Saúde, which has 80 meters, and Binary, which has 1,480 meters between Primeiro de Março Street (in front of São Bento Monastery) and Antônio Lage Street (next to Moinho Fluminense). The Binary connects the Gasômetro viaduct to Downtown. The system counts with new routes and optimization of the existing ones, which, in some cases, were broadened and had the functions changed. The group Expressway + Binary represents a 27% gain in traffic capacity, according to the revised Neighborhood Impact Study of the Wonderful Port, not counting the optimization of other routes. 

The substitution of Perimetral responds to aesthetic reasons in a very deep sense, for it involves the quality of the urban design and, thus, the urban space we will live in. This change follows as well an advanced conception of mobility. The replacement of the Perimetral for the Expressway adds to the construction of the Binary Road of the Port.

Candelária square

The second great challenge is related to the form of implementing this complex and extensive set of changes. It is worth stressing that urban infrastructure of the region is being reconstructed. New networks for supplying water, sewer, drainage, natural gas, electric energy and telecommunications consider the premises of the urban operation regarding population growth. Frequent changes in the traffic of the area are necessary to execute construction works, which, since it is downtown Rio, has repercussions for the entire Metropolitan Region, 

To face this challenge, and mitigate the impacts of construction works on the everyday life of the population, an intense, detailed and dynamic preparation work is being made, involving the City Hall of Rio, through the Companhia de Desenvolvimento Urbano da Região do Porto do Rio de Janeiro (Company of Urban Development of the Port Region of Rio de Janeiro) - CDURP, the Municipal Secretary of Transportation (SMTR), the Companhia de Engenharia de Tráfego do Rio de Janeiro (Traffic Engineering Company of Rio de Janeiro) - CET Rio, the state Secretary of Transportation (SETRAN), the Department of Road Transportation of Rio de Janeiro (DETRO), the Concessionária Porto Novo (New Port Concessionaire) and expert consultants.

An important matter to highlight is that this preparation work goes way beyond the effort to mitigate immediate impacts. In fact, the premises of this plan are basically the same as the new model of urban mobility that is under implementation. It is possible to consider that we are at once building new objective conditions (new routes and systems) and subjective conditions (a new view/perception of urban mobility).

To mitigate impacts, the main focus is mass transport, in order to stimulate integration and rationalization. These measures also stimulate the migration of individual transport to public transport. Another aspect of this effort is the revision of the function and operation of diverse routes of the region. In short, what we are demonstrating is that current resources can be better used.

The constant and intense dialogue between government spheres and with concessionaires of municipal and state public transport services are fundamental for this work. As a result of this effort, we are registering an increased offer of trains, subways, ferryboats and rationalization of lines and itineraries of municipal and intercity buses. At the same time, an immense communication work is made to maintain the population informed about changes. These actions also serve as a mechanism of observation and listening so as to enable adjustments of adopted measures and better assist the population. In this respect, a major challenge is to reconcile Metropolitan and local needs concerning traffic. In many cases, small adjustments and specific measures also need to be

This paper was published in  "Cadernos FGV Projetos" - page 11 (June/July 2014 - year 9 - nº 24 - ISSN 19844883)

Alberto Gomes Silva, managing diretor of Cdurp

References (Portuguese) 
1 - Neighborhood Impact Study (NIS) of the Porto Maravilha Urban Operation, June 2013 [Estudo de Impacto de Vizinhança da Operação Urbana Porto Maravilha, Junho de 2013
2 - Urban Mobility Series [Série Mobilidade Urbana
3 - Light Rail Vehicle (LRV) - Special Projects of the Porto Maravilha Urban Operation [Veículo Leve sobre Trilhos (VLT) - Projetos Especiais da Operação Urbana Porto Maravilha
5 - Mitigation of Impacts Plan [Plano de Mitigação de Impactos