Los(t) Angeles: How L.A can take a lesson from Curitiba, Brazil's Master Plan to reduce its greenhouse gases

According to the Environmental Patrol Agency the main factor leading to climate change is the greenhouse effect caused by the combustion of fossil fuels. Burning coal for energy and oil for gas contributes to over 80% of the greenhouse gases emitted in the United States, a vast majority of which is coming from Los Angeles County. Furthermore the United States holds only 5% of the world’s population but uses 23% of the world’s resources for energy, the most in the world.

If Los Angeles is to become a sustainable city than Los Angeles’ city planners will need to develop a solution to help slow down urban sprawl and implement an accessible and efficient mass transit system similar to the Bus Rapid Transit system used in Curitiba Brazil. With a halt in urban sprawl and the implementation of an accessible and efficient public transit system, Los Angeles citizens will be more likely to ride mass transit than riding in their own cars and therefore contribute to the decrease in global warming.

Curitiba Brazil is one of the most sustainable cities in the world due to their integrated transportation and land use regulation policies that legally bound Curitiba to sustainable growth. However, Curitiba Brazil has not always been designed to be a sustainable city dedicated to sustainable growth. In 1943 Curitiba adopted its first urban plan called the Agache Plan, named after the urban planner Alfred Agache. The Agache plan promoted urban sprawl by placing Curitiba’s central business district in the center of surrounding residential zones. These residential zones were connected to the business district by large right-of-way avenues that were created to help alleviate the congestion created by the people traveling to and from work in their private automobiles. While the Agache Plan’s design reflects basic planning concepts, and the plan currently being used in Los Angeles, Alfred Agache did not foresee the negative environmental affects created by urban sprawl along with the increased congestion that would occur with an increasing population. While Agache Plan seemed to be a successful design for city growth, in the 1950s Curitiba experienced a doubling of its population, which made Curitiba’s residents urge for a revision in the Agache Plan for it did not evolve in time or grow with the growing size of Curitiba’s population.

In 1965 Curitiba came up with its current Master Plan under the direction of Mayor and Architect Jaime Lerner. Under the new Master Plan, Curitiba’s planners successfully accommodated Curitiba’s rapid population growth without degrading their city or the environment by creating a public transportation system that “integrates transportation, street system, and land use.” With a current population of 1,797,408 with 5% growth, Curitiba does not need to worry about contributing to climate change for 75% of Curitiba’s residents use public transit every day. Curitiba has been able to promote high levels of public transit use by managing population growth and city development through their land use regulations and city design. By transforming the large avenues put in place by the Agache Plan into Curitiba’s current street systems, Curitiba did not have to pay for the restructuring of the current street networks, and instead uses these large avenues as “drivers of development.” The Master Plan also uses zoning and land use regulations to encourage high-density development along these structural roadways. For example, according to Curitiba's planning website, the IPPUC, law 5,234 passed in 1975 “restricts occupation and density in peripheral residential zones, and [stimulates] the occupation areas closer to the structural axes, where street level and first floor [are] to be used for business and services.” In other words law 5,234 discourages sprawling residential zones, by specifying the locations of high-density occupational developments. By only allowing high-density occupational developments to be built near public transit avenues, Curitiba’s planners are encouraging Curitiba citizens to use the easily accessible and highly efficient public transportation, by placing businesses along these large public transit avenues.

The success of Curitiba’s transportation system can be attributed to its accessibility and efficiency. Curitiba’s public transit system, which started out with 25,000 riders every day in 1974, now has 2,200,000 riders per day. Curitiba’s transportation system is composed of a hierarchy of buses. There are small buses that travel through smaller neighborhoods, bringing riders to the larger bus routes where they can transfer onto one of Curitiba’s express or direct bus lines capable of holding up to 300 people running every minute. Curitiba’s mass transit system is more popular than driving private cars for traveling by bus is more efficient and faster than travelling by car. Under Curitiba’s ternary street network system, Curitiba’s buses get to use exclusive bus only, free of congestion and traffic lights, wide avenues, while private cars can only use the more narrow, and congested parallel streets.

Curitiba’s public transit system is also highly efficient due to the tube station bus stops, which according to Jaime Lerner “gives buses the same performance as the subway.” These tube stations are clear-walled bus stations that cut down passenger loading and unloading time to 15 to 20 seconds. Passengers pay their fares before entering these tube stations and wait in this protected shelter until their bus arrives. Instead of each rider boarding and getting off the bus one passenger at time like on conventional buses, in Curitiba, buses are designed with extra wide doors and extendable ramps in order to expedite the time it takes to load and unload the bus. The single fare that the rider pays before entering the tube station is good for any

transfers that rider may need to take while travelling in Curitiba.

By combining public transit planning with land use regulations, Curitiba’s planners have created a system of coexistence between city growth and the city’s transportation lines. By creating land use regulation laws that only allow development along the avenues with public transit, Curitiba is allowing itself room to grow in a structured and controlled manner. With an increasing population, Curitiba will be able to continue to develop and grow along the avenues made for public transit. Because public transit and city expansion are growing together, no matter how large the city of Curitiba will grow, the strict zoning and land use regulation laws will always ensure that these new areas will be connected to the rest of Curitiba by the successful and efficient public transit system. Between 1970 and 1978 the population of Curitiba grew 73% while the population along the public transit avenues increased 120%, proving that Curitiba’s Master Plan can successfully accompany population growth.

Los Angeles’ current urban growth plan closely mirrors Curitiba’s failed Agache Plan. With many different central business districts surrounded by sprawling residential zones, Los Angeles residents are forced to sit in traffic to get to and from work everyday, further contributing to global warming. In order to help Los Angeles become more sustainable, Los Angeles city planners need to adopt a strict integrated transportation and land use regulation policy to reduce urban sprawl and create infill, smart, and sustainable growth. With an integrated transportation and land use regulation plan that is similar to Curitiba’s, Los Angeles can limit urban sprawl by only allowing new high-density zones to be built around mass transit lines. By creating high density, transportation oriented developments; residents in these smart growth and sustainable areas will be more apt to use public transit for it is easily accessible. Los Angeles city planners can then provide public transit to other highly dense transportation oriented areas to start connecting areas within Los Angeles by accessible public transit.

While Los Angeles does provide mass transit to its residents, the Los Angeles metro lines are inefficient for they are exposed to the same congestion that private automobiles are forced to drive in. In order to make Los Angeles public transit more efficient, reliant, and timely, Los Angeles needs to create a street system that allocates bus-only streets like the main large avenues used in Curitiba. By installing central streets for bus use only, Los Angeles residents would see the benefits of using mass transit over their private cars, for the buses would be able to travel throughout Los Angeles without being hindered by traffic.

Until Los Angeles implements an urban growth plan that encourages sustainable growth, and a public transit system that is more faster and more efficient to use than it is to drive a private car, Los Angeles residents will continue to use their cars no matter the price of gas, or its affects on the environment. This is why it is imperative that the United States government, along with state and local governments start implementing sustainable growth plans utilizing mass transportation in order to join Curitiba’s cause of being a solution and not a contributor to climate change.


  1. Firstly, I would like to thank you for the subject of your post, being that it is one that concerns the majority of us living in the city. After reading your post, I only wish that our city leaders do the same. It appears to me that although this is what many people talk about, there are not really any actions put behind it. Secondly, your post is very successful to incorporate all the beneficial factors that affect the global sphere. It was a brilliant move, emphasizing Curitiba; a city that has experienced same issues as Los Angeles. It enables the reader to connect to the situation in Los Angeles. The title of this post could not be any more correct. I especially enjoyed that you attacked the issue so many different angles with good visuals that enhanced my understanding about their solution to the problem. Furthermore, you hit it right on, emphasizing the importance of regulations set in place. Many countries have modernized their mass transit and avoided problems that the people in Los Angeles are facing. It seems there must be a simultaneous understanding between people learning to avoid driving cars and mass transit set in place. However, something that your post obviously points out is that it is not possible without a healthy but yet strict policy that implements regulations. You managed to make me understand that from your post with convincing statistic, and I hope other readers will catch on to that.
    Now, with all respect to your post, I would like to point out some issues that we may differ in how to pursue. As I know the importance of Los Angeles to get in the bandwagon moving this policy further, I am skeptical whether a city like Curitiba can be compared to a city like ours, being that it differs in population and size. Furthermore, many Los Angelenos are concerned with a transit system being that it could jeopardize their safety. However, I recognize this all being details that can be polished and worked on. Again, thank you for this eye-awakening post. I hope you continue to publish similar oriented post in the future.

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