In Praise of Bike-Friendly Campo Grande

As many of you will know, Maria and I were in Corumbá last week, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Although this has an international airport, being on the border with Bolivia, there are no direct flights from São Paulo, and so we had to change at Campo Grande, the capital of the state. On our way home, there were no connecting flights for us, so we had to stay the night in the city, and fly home the following afternoon. We arrived on the Sunday around 4pm, and I have to say, in the taxi on the way to our hotel, the other side of town, we were extremely impressed with the first impressions.

Campo Grande is a relatively new city, and benefits from being, in some degree, planned, unlike say the chaotic sprawl of São Paulo. What really caught our eye though were two things. The first was the near pristine condition of the grass verges and centres of the avenues, and the second was the considerable amount of bike lanes, which were separate from the main roads.

Campo Grande

Photo: Simon Robinson

Our taxi driver told us that Campo Grande has around 100 km of dedicated cycle lanes, many of which have only been built in the last year or so. In fact, the city has either the second or third largest amount of cycles lanes in Brazil which for me was quite surprising, as I would not have expected a city in the agricultural “interior” of Brazil to have such great facilities for cyclists.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Our second taxi driver who took us from the hotel back to the airport told us a little more about the city. The current mayor is Alcides Bernal, and he appears to have been a much greater success than his predecessor, currently garnering something like a 96% approval rating. A great deal of effort is made to keep the city clean, and part of this operation has been to take homeless people and beggars off the streets. However, there are support programs to help them, one of which involves the taxi drivers. If a taxi driver sees a homeless person, there is a phone number for them to contact the local government, who then send someone out to see if that person can be helped. The city has also helped illegal street traders by providing a location where they can trade legally.

Cycle lanes in Brazil are not always built to European standards, and sometimes receive complaints from cyclists. But as you can see in the photo below, taken from the taxi, these lanes seem to have been built to the highest standards, and are well away from the traffic, making them extremely safe to ride on. There is full signage for all road users and pedestrians, with added painted lanes for when cyclists have to cross at junctions.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Every so often I like to write about smaller and lesser-known towns in Brazil. Cities like Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba are doing some fantastic work transforming themselves into bike friendly cities with integrated and holistic solutions. Campo Grande should certainly be added to this list, and for me as a foreigner it makes a huge impression on first arrival. In my last article I mentioned the article in The Economist asking “Has Brazil blown it?” and in this leading article the issues with infrastructure were noted:

Despite the country’s continental dimensions and lousy transport links, its spending on infrastructure is as skimpy as a string bikini. It spends just 1.5% of GDP on infrastructure, compared with a global average of 3.8%, even though its stock of infrastructure is valued at just 16% of GDP, compared with 71% in other big economies. Rotten infrastructure loads unnecessary costs on businesses. In Mato Grosso a soyabean farmer spends 25% of the value of his product getting it to a port; the proportion in Iowa is 9%.

I can attest to this in São Paulo where the roads are just dreadful and much negelcted. That is why visionary cities here need to be praised when successful visions are implemented, and I am happy to add Campo Grande to this list.

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