Cemeteries of Buenos Aires

I’ve heard it said that it’s more expensive to die in Buenos Aires than it is to live there. The ornate decorations at the cemeteries I visited make me think this might be true.

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Metrobus – BRT in Buenos Aires

At the end of May, the Mayor of Buenos Aires inaugurated Argentina’s first BRT line (English summary here). Metrobus incorporates lines 34 and 166 (operated by the private companies Juan B. Justo S.A.T.C.I. and Empresa Linea 216, S.A.T., respectively), which run along Juan B. Justo Avenue between Palermo and Liniers. The new corridor consists of dedicated center lanes and raised stops.

During construction, neighbors complained about traffic disruptions and the slow pace of work. The city openly stated that taking away general use lanes along the avenue would add to travel time for private automobiles; transit priority is an important part of the municipal government’s Sustainable Mobility Plan.

According to Clarín:

“We were expecting ridership growth of 20% in the medium term, but in the first weeks we halve already come to record more than 15%,” staff of the Secretary of Transportation said. According to their explanation, this is due mostly to people realizing that they can travel more quickly and safely with the dedicated lanes, because the drivers can no longer pass each other nor do they need to brake abruptly in stops or corners. “And, incidentally, this also benefits auto drivers, who now drive more relaxed separated from buses,” they added. According to their statistics, the growth of passengers has been recorded, above all, in Line 34, where 18% more users are now noted.

Despite the protracted construction process (pictures below), the system seems to be gaining ground as an important tool for sustainable mobility in Buenos Aires.

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Plan de Movilidad Sustentable

The municipal government of Buenos Aires has developed and begun to implement a comprehensive plan to foster healthy and sustainable mobility options for the city’s residents. From their website:

“We’re working to improve your quality of life. To accomplish this with the Sustainable Mobility Plan, we seek to reorder transit so that all of us can travel in a rapid, safe, and orderly manner in our city, contributing additionally to improved environmental quality. The Sustainable Mobility Plan integrates linked programs which were developed by using the global best practices, the support of recognized professionals in each field of expertise, and the mainstays of managing transportation and public transit: public transit priority, healthy mobility, and roadway safety and design.”

These three pillars have a number of supporting programs that are being implemented successfully:

Public transit priority

  • Preferential lanes – counterflow lanes used exclusively by buses and taxis during rush hours have been introduced on many of Buenos Aires’ main arteries, including Santa Fe, Pueyrredon, and Callao.
  • Metrobus – the city’s first BRT corridor opened at the end of May
  • New Metro stations – fifteen new stations are in planning or construction along four Subte lines

Healthy mobility

  • Ecological buses – hybrid buses are being introduced to reduce emissions
  • Pedestrian priority – restricting auto access to pedestrian corridors to encourage walking
  • Buenos Aires Better on Bike – the city has introduced a bike sharing program and is ambitiously expanding its network of bicycle lanes. Additionally, bike-friendly policies are in place for public transit. Daniel Chain, the city’s minister for urban development, credits these advances with fostering geometric growth of bicycle use over the past months

Roadway safety and design

  • Traffic safety and enforcement – This multipronged effort includes improved DUI enforcement, speeding crackdowns, and improvements to scholar transport.
  • Efficient parking systems
  • Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) implementation
  • Infrastructure improvements

The city is doing an impressive job of articulating a comprehensive vision of sustainable mobility, even though progress in making such significant changes can seem to be slow (see the above video – it features porteños praising a mobility improvement and suggesting a change in a different area, only for the video to then show that the suggested change is in fact underway). Working with strong allies like ITDP, Transeunte Argentina, and the Society of Architects is helping to turn this vision into reality.

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Bikes on the Urquiza Line

Unlike in many cities, the commuter rail lines in Buenos Aires allow bicycles aboard during rush hour. I spent a weekday afternoon riding the Urquiza Line to see how it worked. At one point there were about 15 bikes hanging from the racks in the crowded car, and passengers were generally helpful about making room for the bikes.

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El Subte de Buenos Aires

The subterráneo of Buenos Aires opened in 1913, the first metro system in the Southern Hemisphere. Its six lines offer service throughout the city with a heavily-subsidized fare. Line A still uses its original wooden cars, which contrast strikingly with the new stations being built as the system continues to expand.

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Tarjeta SUBE

Buenos Aires introduced a unified contact-less farecard system for its subway and various bus companies in August, 2010. The SUBE card is compatible with the Monedero card, which was previously implemented for the Subte (subway). The new card has gone a long way in reducing the severe coin crisis Argentina faced; for three years, bus companies hoarded the coins needed to pay fares, leading the one peso coin to be more valuable than a two peso note.

Despite these improvements, implementation of the SUBE card still has a way to go. In April, only 2/3 of buses were equipped with functioning SUBE validators, with many buses featuring “Solo Monedas” signs on their windshields. The cards are not available at subway stations (as they are in Santiago, for example). Instead, obtaining one requires filling out an application and providing a passport or identity document at a post office. Although many convenience stores display SUBE recharge placards, 3/5 of the ones I visited seeking recharges did not have their systems enabled.

La Salada

After reading Saskia Sassen’s blog post about the largest market in South America, I decided I needed to visit La Salada. This sprawling agglomeration of clothing stalls and food vendors on the outskirts of Buenos Aires has a reputation of harboring some unsavory characters, but I decided to make an adventure out of my trip to buy warm clothes for my trip south to Ushuaia.

Shoppers from all over Argentina flock to La Salada on its market days, Tuesdays and Sundays. Indeed, when I was in Viedma (500 miles to the south), there were fliers advertising charter trips to La Salada. To make their bulk purchases, clothing resellers can ride such overnight double-decker charter buses, which travel directly through the masses of pedestrians and vendors to the parking lot in the center of La Salada (a video of such maneuvering, assisted by men who push people out of the way and expect tips from the bus drivers in return, is here). It is almost easier to reach the market from hundreds of miles away than it is to arrive from the center of Buenos Aires, since there are not direct regular buses. I had heard rumors of a special variant of the Route 32 bus that traveled from the central Estación Once to La Salada, but the ticket vendor at Estación Once told me and a number of other La Salada-goers that it was not operating. Since we could not take a direct bus, we had to transfer at Puente de la Noria to “truchas,” vans providing unlicensed passenger service. As we climbed onto the creaky wooden benches and seats in the back, one of the women complained, “We’re paying four pesos for this? I could hire a private car for that amount!” Her shopping companion responded, “Well, they only get the business two days a week, they have to take advantage of it.”

I arrived successfully and wandered the rows of stalls looking for a jacket and gloves. I was amused by the quantity of “trucha” merchandise – clothing bearing the logos of Nike, Adidas, and other brands, labeled with small stickers reading “Replica.” After making my purchases, I enjoyed dinner and marveled as a train made its way through the market (not unlike this, but with honking double-decker buses thrown into the mix). More pictures of La Salada are available here. I took some good ones of my own, but thanks to some unsavory characters, most of them didn’t make it back with me.

La Salada from the air

La Salada from the air; the bridge on the right is a railway bridge used by both trains and pedestrians

"Ask about shopping tour departures to La Salada" - sign in the Viedma bus terminal advertising the 500 mile bus trip to La Salada

"Ask about shopping tour departures to La Salada" - sign in the Viedma bus terminal advertising the 500 mile bus trip to La Salada

Tango

I attended an impressive outdoor tango show sponsored by the Buenos Aires municipal government:

“A tour through the different styles of tango – the sensuality and virtuosity of Stage Tango is combined with the style and elegance of Milonguero Tango. The lyricism and poetry, interpreted by Hernán Piquín and Cecilia Figaredo, joins five partners of excellent artistry that create an innovative musical and stylistic approach.”

Sensuality may be a bit of an understatement. These are pictures of some of the tamer moves:

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