You think your city has tough traffic? Take a drive in Sao Paulo, this city of 18 million. First there’s a big disparity between vehicles because many wealthy inhabitants are driving luxury imports, and then there are multitudes of cheap wrecks that may or may not even be registered. Volkswagen has factories in Brasil that have been pumping out vehicles for decades, these little cars being famous as reliable are like cockroaches in that they’re hard to kill and seem to come out from every crevice. So it’s not uncommon to see old VW Combi-vans, Beatles and Golfs lined up beside Mercedes and Land Rovers at an intersection.
Next is the roads themselves, which have improved dramatically in this city over the last 10 years but that’s still not bringing them up to a standard that anyone from North America would call poor. Fortunately some money that wasn’t pilfered from classic car insurance the coffers of the municipality did actually find it’s way into some worthy construction projects, which included bus lanes to the downtown core and some ring roads to route some heavier truck traffic around the outside of the city. Now people can make it downtown from the outskirts faster in a bus than they could ever possibly drive a car, that is during peak hours.
Oh I forgot to mention that most long-haul truck transport goes right through the city instead of by-passing it, so you’ll notice a most unusual number of trucks on the main city streets but that’s improving and within another 10 years, if more money trickles past the politicos that abscond with anything that they can, makes it’s way to the people who need to grease some palms to buy licenses and rent land to cut through one environmentally sensitive area outside the city, then we’ll have a complete outer ring-road to by-pass Sao Paulo if you’re on your way to Rio (for example) in a large transport truck.
In the suburbs the streets are often times worse than back-alleys of other big cities I’ve seen. Even neighborhoods filled with palace like homes of millionaire can have streets so patched, pot-holed and broken that you’re forced to drive slow unless you’re in an SUV with good shocks and tires. These roads are made of patches on the patches but then it’s important to note that Brasil as a whole has the least amount of roads per capita of almost any country in the world and people here will tell you that with many of the highways you’re taking your life into your own hands. The weather in many parts of the country reap havoc and the shoulders are virtually non-existent.
Now that you’ve had a slight insight into the cars and roads of Sao Paulo let me share some thoughts about the drivers. Let me start by explaining that this city was only 60,000 inhabitants less than 100 years ago, so holds the worlds record for the most amount of growth. Those new inhabitants came from the rural regions and have flowed into the city, ceaselessly, every day new first-time big-city drivers arrive here. Many of the present drivers learned to drive in cities by coming here. The city traffic teaches you how to drive, to survive.
It’s key to drive aggressively here. Remember that the white lines, traffic lights and stop signs are mere suggestions. Don’t consider that drivers of motor bikes are human, or driving by the same rules as you. Moto-boys (delivery bikes) are treated as trash, totally ignored by the car drivers and live or die by their own reflex, which is too bad for them. The drivers show Latin passion at every opportunity, so that’s why it’s better to just drive like them, then you’ll get along just fine. Fortunately there’s been speed cameras placed on many of the main arteries leading into the city, so it’s not as scary now as it was 10 years ago because I’ve rarely seen anyone pulled over but instead the cops right tickets and mail them to speeders. Cops themselves are possibly the worst of all drivers in the city.
Stop signs have a different meaning here, like; slow down to look both ways, then toot your horn if you’re in a real hurry and need to blast right through them. Good thing that deep gutters and many neighborhood intersections cause the similar effect as speed bumps, whereby it’s totally hazardous to your car not to slow down, also speed bumps are placed on the roads of many residential area streets. In both cases of speed gutters and speed bumps you can see evidence of where many people just let’er rip and hoped the car could handle. You’d never see American Corvettes here, very few Porches and other low to the road imports because they just couldn’t handle the streets.
My advice if you’re going to be driving in Sao Paulo is to wear dark sunglasses, buckle-up, lock the doors, turn up the Samba on the radio and drive like you’re in the Gumball Rally.