A car-free town in the Amazon serves lessons for pedaling to net zero emissions

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2024-05-12 13:30:02

AFUÁ, Brazil — Brazilian politicians stumping for reelection know the power of public largesse. So it was in 2010 when the incumbent governor of Pará state lavished city halls in this sprawling Amazonian province twice the size of France with tractors and motor graders to make roads.

In a remote tropical region, where tarmac is a totem of progress, no self-respecting mayor would snub such a bequest. No one except Odimar Wanderley Salomão, mayor of Afuá, who politely declined and had a good laugh — then astutely swapped his tractor chit for a riverboat.

Since 2002, this city on the Amazon River has been famously off-limits to motor vehicles. It wasn't a matter of environmental scruples. Cars and motorways had no place in this town of 38,000, much of which is built on stilts and sits above the chronically submersed floodplains of Marajó Island, near where the world's largest river empties into the Atlantic.

Locals call their hometown the Venice of the Amazon, because of its filigree of waterways and the fleet of boats that ply them. A visitor would be forgiven for thinking they'd landed in an outsize velodrome, such is the dizzying flow of cyclists zipping along the narrow streets. If Mayor Salomão — known to all as "Mazinho" — has his way, Afuá might yet be remembered as the city that pedaled its way to net zero emissions.

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