Thursday, December 6, 2012

Amid increasing urban development, Chileans say pedal backward

By: Seaira Christian-Daniels  
Produced and edited by: Kaylyn Hlavaty

Morning traffic staccatoes along the Autopista, one of the two central highways in Santiago, Chile. The subtle scan of a toll-tracking device ushers Myriam Gregorio de las Heras to her final stop: Sanhattan, the largest and most modern area of Santiago. Sanhattan is the central location for business negotiations in Santiago and the epitome of development in the city.

De las Heras is among the nearly 60 percent of Chileans who commute to work into the downtown district of the city each day, according to a most recent 2002 Chilean Census Report. Highway tolls and wasted time, however, have caused several workers to challenge the efficiency of the Chilean transportation system amid much of the development downtown.

Some, like Camila Risso, a nurse who is continuing her education at Universidad Católica in Santiago, said she foots the bill to live on the outskirts of the city for the sake of her sanity.

“Santiago is too busy. It’s too noisy, so I prefer to get out. I prefer to go out and have a little bit of peace.” Though she says it is considerably more expensive to live in the suburban region of Region Metropolitano, the Metropolitan District, the chance to have a garden, trees in her yard, and a swimming pool allured her. Camila travels 45 minutes to and from work each day. Initially, she said, the drive did not cause alarm, but she’s beginning to feel worn out. “You spend about two hours a day driving. In the beginning it wasn’t that hard, but when it’s everyday. It’s stressful.”

Are the Roads to Blame?

Travelers come from small towns littered around the boisterously active capital city. The problem, de las Heras and Risso say, is the inefficient design of the roads downtown.

Francisco Contreras, a mine development engineer, says Chile’s copper mining industry has increased travel to and from Santiago. In Anagosto, the major mining city, there is only one main road, which often causes traffic congestion.

“This city has a huge floating population--people that come to Anagosto just to work at the copper mines and then go back to Santiago, La Serena, or Concepción--it becomes a real issue having a single "main" avenue.”

Santiago’s structure guarantees the centralization of services, public offices, and commerce, said Alejandro Aedo, an Engineering Specialist for BHP Billiton, a resource management firm. However, Jorge Jerez, an electrical engineer from Santiago, said the city structure has lagged behind the quickly increasing demographic. He says the mode of transportation must fit the population.

“The viability of the structures [downtown] doesn’t satisfy the requirements for vehicular transportation and connectivity required to improve some the congestion on the streets,” he says.

A Google map image of the streets around downtown Santiago appears the same as many other roads in major urban centers—with three-lane highways and express lanes attached on each side. Yet, as with many urban cities across the globe, the most developed cities have experienced mass amounts of congestion and inconvenience. A more simple solution

Chilean workers say the fix for congestion is to reinstitute the use of a more simple form of transportation. Diego Barros, a construction worker who has decided to live in the downtown region of the city, says though it is hard to find work in Santiago because of intense competition between small businesses and big corporations, he chooses to stay in downtown Santiago so he does not have to endure the hassel-prone public transportation system.

“I walk to work, but I try to use my bike in most cases. If it’s more than 40 km, then I take public transportation.” Barros said biking to work is a growing trend in younger professionals.

Maricel Brugerolles, who lives and works in Santiago, proposes the implementation of bike routes around the city to allow people who live closer to their jobs to bike ride to work everyday. “There’s a parallel life with respect to transportation. The government should divide the highways to decrease the amount of volume of traffic,” she says.

Though Chile records the second lowest gas emissions in 2012, the country had the second largest percent increase in gas consumption that year of BP’s top-eight monitored Central and South America Countries. These statistics explain government of Santiago issuing its first ever pre- emergency environmental alert in May of 2012. A second alert limiting vehicles without catalytic converters to a certain number of hours per day was issued in May 2011. Catalytic converters transform toxic vehicle emissions into less toxic forms.

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