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Brasil vs. United Kingdom

A lot of people think that I am crazy for cycling the streets of São Paulo, citing the perils of taking to two wheels in a city that is dominated by four or many more. Yet I have never felt in any real danger while on my bicycle here, despite a (growing) number of accidents, and personally think São Paulo is a safer city to cycle in than any city I have experienced in the United Kingdom. Perhaps from the outside it seems like something crazy to say.

After all, this is a city with over 8.5 million vehicles on the roads.

This is a city with roads that appear to have been tarmacked over a stegosaurus.

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An artist’s depiction of a São Paulo road tarmacked over a stegosaurus

This is a city with more potholes than this guy would be able to handle.

This is a city where zebra crossings are just a complete waste of paint.

This is a city in which cars will reverse 500 m back up a busy one-way street because they’ve gone the wrong way.

This is a city in which drivers run red lights at night in order to avoid being mugged.

This is a city in which drivers run red lights during the day because they don’t want to wait.

This is a city in which overtaking can result in a gun being pointed in your face (a story for another time).

This is a city in which I am yet to see a bus driver check his mirror as they merge across lanes.

This is a city where the majority of phone calls (texts and emails) appear to be made from behind the wheel of a car.

This is a city where a car three lanes from a right turn will cut across to take the exit while indicating left.

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A classic scenario of everyone turning from the wrong lane (Image source)

Interestingly, this is a city where no one beeps their horn at the aforementioned indiscretion, yet everyone incessantly does so when in a traffic jam.

This is a city in which cycling can cost you an arm even when in the designated bicycle lane.

And yet I still feel more comfortable amidst the chaos of São Paulo than I ever did in England, particularly compared to London. So despite all these negatives, why do I consider São Paulo to be a safer city to cycle in than London? I believe the simple answer is driver attitude. I think Sao Paulo’s biggest problem for cyclists (and pedestrians) isn’t aggressive drivers, but bad drivers (a lax attitude to driving tests in this country contributes to this; I have been told on numerous occasions how friends failed their driving test, only to be told they could pass if they offered their assessor some money), and this can be combatted for the most part with some preventative and attentive cycling. However, the drivers in the UK appear to have some inherent hatred for cyclists which leads them to behave aggressively towards them, purposely making life difficult, endangering their lives and even deliberately hitting them. Where this hatred of cyclists comes from I am not sure, but I do not think that cycling in the UK can be particularly enjoyable for cyclists until this attitude changes. In the meantime, I am happy to slipstream motorbikes through the millions of cars congesting this Brazilian megacity safe in the knowledge that the bloke cutting me up at the next set of lights simply lacks driving intelligence and is not purposely trying to kill me. Wait; is that a gun I see…?


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