The bus ride I took from Bariloche, Argentina to Osorno, Chile, was the most scenic bus ride I’ve ever taken. The route along the Cardinal Samore Pass (named for the Cardinal who helped negotiate a peaceful end to the 1978 conflict between Argentina and Chile) winds along Nahuel Huapi Lake and through the Andes. A couple weeks after I traveled through the pass, it was covered by three feet of volcanic stones ejected from Puyehue-Cordon Caulle.
Traveling the 1400 miles from Ushuaia to Viedma took about 37 hours by bus. The first leg was especially slow given the four border posts (for the short stretch of the trip in Chilean territory) and the ferry ride over the Strait of Magellan. I took a couple hours to walk around Río Gallegos and stayed for one night in Comodoro Rivadavia to break up the rest of the trip. Traveling in coche cama, which includes food, drinks, and bed-like seats was a treat. I also enjoyed the expansive views of the pampas and seeing some guanacos.
Bus from Río Grande to Río Gallegos (required stopping at four border posts)
On a ferry crossing the Strait of Magellan
The main street in Río Gallegos, the Kirchners’ hometown
Sunrise over Comodoro Rivadavia
Wind turbine public art
Río Gallegos, an oil boomtown, is also home to a large windfarm
Junkyard in Carmen de Patagones
Boarding the ferry between Carmen de Patagones and Viedma
In Ushuaia, I rode the southernmost railway in the world. The Ferrocarril Austral Fuegino was originally built to ferry prisoners from Ushuaia’s jail to logging camps in what is now Tierra del Fuego National Park. Riding it right after the year’s first snow was quite scenic.
Railways played an important role in Argentina’s economic and political development. The Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz National Railway Museum writes, “The railroad, that magical and alluring world of trains, is one of the most transcendental inventions of humanity. In our country, the first rail line was inaugurated on August 29, 1857, just years after this revolutionary means of transit began to run in Europe.”
Much of Argentina’s early infrastructure and rolling stock was built with foreign investment. When Colonel Perón nationalized the railways in 1948, Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz, who had written “railways constitute the fundamental key of the nation,” claimed that Argentina had finally “bought sovereignty.” The country’s golden age of rail did not last long, though some rolling stock was manufactured domestically from 1957 up until 1982. As the current Railway Infrastructure Administration explains:
In the late 1940s, the railway network reached 43,000 kilometers. Railway schools were started, and steam engines, diesel locomotives, and all types of carriages were manufactured. The trip from Buenos Aires to Rosario was covered in 3.5 hours. But that progress came to a halt after the coup of 1955. Argentine railways entered into a gradual and continual agony: the Larkin Plan during the government of Frondizi; the means of “rationalization” of the civic-military coup of 1976, and especially the railway scrapping undertaken by the neoliberal regime of Carlos Menem. During that administration, under the promise of improving services, the lines were privatized or transfered to the provincial governments.
Much of this history is documented in the National Railway Museum as well as a number of Railway Clubs. Members of these clubs volunteer to restore rolling stock and run charters with restored steam engines. The Colonel Lynch branch I visited is home to 88 coaches and 9 locomotives. I especially enjoyed seeing some of the original Line B subway cars.
Ferroclub Argentio’s Coronel Lynch branch
A fellow traveler from Philadelphia
Baldwin 4-6-0 build in 1908
One of the 56 first generation cars used on Line B starting in 1930
One of the original Line B cars – built in Nottingham
In front of a 1952 Henschel
Evita’s train car
Italian, Japanese, and Dutch companies all related through rail projects in Argentina
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.
“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.
Punctuality – a benefit of BRT
Lines 34 and 166, which formerly circulated in general traffic, now use dedicated lan…
Metrobus is coming
Metrobus will cut travel times along Ave. Juan B. Justo by 40% for buses while increa…
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
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
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.
Daniel Chain (Minister for Urban Development), Andres Fingeret (ITDP Country Director…
Metrobus is a central part of Buenos Aires’ Sustainable Mobility Plan
Bus- (and taxi-) only lanes
Extension of Line E
Buenos Aires has a growing network of bike lanes and rental facilities
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.
The exhibition was in South Africa during my stay there, but I waited to visit it until it opened at Argentina’s Museum of Architecture and Design. It was especially fun to read about the African cities I had gotten to know in an exhibit in South America. Speaking about the exhibition’s cities when it was in South Africa, the executive manager for planning and strategy at the Joburg Development Agency, Sharon Lewis, noted, “Nearly all of the cities are in developing nations, because this is where most urban growth will happen over the next 20 years. They have the opportunity to learn from and leapfrog over the mistakes made by developed nations, particularly the over-dependence of cars in the United States.”
Our Cities, Ourselves explores the use of bicycles, public space, and public transportation as tools to combat overdependence on cars in cities (PDF booklet highlighting these tools here). A video of the exhibit (in Spanish) is here.
For me, one of the most interesting parts of the exhibit in Argentina was a lecture by Columbia sociologist Saskia Sassen, who grew up in Buenos Aires. She shared her thoughts on transportation’s role in bringing about a “tipping point” in the fight for global sustainability. There are important “microprocesses” involved with transportation, and “we don’t need the big flagship project.” This was an important perspective to hear, especially given the publicity and flagship status cities tend to give to BRT projects. She also mentioned the prevalence of “sites in the city of non-voluntary immobility,” a phrasing I found helpful. A video of her remarks (in Spanish) is here.
Bike sculpture outside the Museum of Architecture and Design
Andrés Fingeret (ITDP Argentina) and Saskia Sassen