Rio Tranquil at Year to Go -- Op Ed

(ATR) Rio calmly faces unfinished business with traffic and water pollution, says ATR Editor Ed Hula.

(ATR) With a year to go to the Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro seems no more panicked than normal this week, although mighty challenges still remain.

Regardless of massive improvements to public transit, traffic is still ridiculous at times. The western suburb of Barra da Tijuca where the Olympic Park and other key venues are located seems to be in never-ending gridlock.

Throughout Barra, construction of Bus Rapid Transit stations signals a future less dependent on cars and a better quality of life with shorter time spent traveling.

The 2016 Summer Games will put to the test this new transport infrastructure that is supposed to result in accessible public transit for 60% of 6.2 million citizens.

I wish it were the case now.

I’m planning to visit the equestrian venue test event in the Deodoro Olympic Park. Besides delays in construction of the venues, Deodoro is notorious for its distance from anywhere in Rio de Janeiro. We’ll leave by car from the Windsor Barra Hotel (the IOC hotel in 2016) and -- fingers crossed -- we’ll reach the venue, 27 km away, within the hour. Then there is the return. For spectators traveling from Copacabana, the trip could take 30 minutes longer.

Rugby, field hockey, slalom canoe, modern pentathlon, shooting, BMX and mountain biking are among the 11 sports taking place in this outpost. Even with BRT service or Olympic lanes, it will still take a chunk of time to reach.

My advice to those coming to Rio next year is to be patient, plan for long travel times, and don’t overdo back and forth transits. Try to take in as many events as possible while out at Deodoro, which will have the second largest concentration of venues for Rio 2016.

The same advice applies to Rio Olympic Park, the number one cluster of venues. Located in Barra, the park can probably be reached within 30 minutes from Copacabana and half that time for visitors staying in the Barra area.

While the BRT is supposed to bring traffic relief, Barra has become a massive center of commerce for Rio de Janeiro, regardless of the Olympics. If there is one spot in Rio that could go into the red zone for traffic next year, this is the place.

But the panic attack the IOC suffered a year and a half ago over Rio venue preparations seems to have subsided now that all are very close to completion. Test events are coming for all of them - even the golf course, which came dangerously close to missing the Olympic deadline.

It seems that with any Olympics, there is one issue that remains hanging over the last months of preparation. In London, it might have been security. In Beijing, air pollution. For Rio, it’s primarily the pollution pouring into the sea. And then there’s the battle against street crime and violence in the favelas, although not as intense as it once was.

The first wave of test events for Rio this month involve competition in the polluted waters that are drawing worldwide attention. So far triathletes, rowers and sailors have not succumbed to anything foul. If government experts are to be believed, pollution levels will be lowered by 60% by the time of the Olympics. Constant monitoring is ahead.

Still, for these first-ever Olympics held in a host city on the Atlantic Ocean, stopping the pollution totally would have been an admirable legacy not just for Rio, but for every nation that shares the world’s second biggest ocean.

Written by EdHula

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