My Life Stuck in Brazil’s Terrible Traffic

(Bloomberg) -- Sitting in the back of a cab on Faria Lima, the palm-tree lined avenue that crosses the financial district in Brazil’s biggest city, I saw a man in a suit get out of his Uber and just start walking.

Then another. And another.

This was odd, even in the gridlock-madness of Sao Paulo. It was too early for rush hour. There were no accidents in sight, no sirens in the distance. But we’d all been stuck for a good 15 minutes, not even moving an inch as the lights kept changing from green to yellow to red and back again.

Then my cabbie reminded me of the overpass that had recently collapsed. I recalled seeing the pictures, a huge slab of concrete broken away, twisted and dangling over an expressway. Fortunately, because it happened in the middle of the night, there were few cars on it and no casualties. Unfortunately, Mayor Bruno Covas said, it’ll be another five months before it’s repaired.

Now, the traffic in Sao Paulo has never been pleasant. Living here means spending an average 86 hours a year in go-nowhere jams during peak hours, about what it would take to binge-watch the entire 10 seasons of “Friends.” The city always ranks high in those worst-in-the-world lists; Inrix put it at No. 4 last year, lagging only Los Angeles, in the top spot, and Moscow and New York, tied for second. A study by the FGV School of Economics in 2014 estimated that congestion costs the city over 40 billion reais ($10.3 billion) annually, the equivalent of 1 percent of the country’s entire economy.

My Life Stuck in Brazil’s Terrible Traffic

We get it. We’re not doing anything productive during the workaday commutes that top out at 15-mph; the marathons before long weekends of hit-brakes-then-gas-then-brakes that run all the way to the beach; the afternoon summer-storm chaos that comes complete with malfunctioning lights, falling trees and flooding. And now the conked-out overpass is making it worse, with some 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) of roads around it still closed, down from an initial 20. The ripple effects are especially bad in Itaim Bibi, the swanky neighborhood that’s home to the financial district, as drivers scout out alternatives to the Marginal Pinheiros expressway.

The broken bridge is a reminder of the lousy job Brazil has done keeping its infrastructure in shape, a failure that intensified amid a record-shattering recession and a corruption scandal that crippled some of the country’s largest builders. President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who takes office Jan. 1, has created a special infrastructure ministry to deal with what Paulistas will tell you is a crisis (though their pot-holed streets are dreamy compared to conditions on some of the roads in the country’s remote highlands.)

We’ve been counting down the days until the masses leave town for the holidays, taking the pressure off for a while. But come January, everybody probably should be ready to be getting a lot more random exercise. After another few minutes in the cab that day, I got out and started walking, too.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.