What can we learn from the murderous attack on cyclists in Porto Alegre on Friday?

Porto Alegre Brazil. 25 February 2011. At least forty people were injured when a mad driver slammed his car into a pack of more than 100 cyclists in the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil. The cyclists, mainly young people, were staging a peaceful demonstration calling for a reduction in the number of cars on the streets. The 47-year-old male driver fled the scene of the incident Friday evening and was later arrested after authorities found his abandoned car over the weekend.

[Please, upon completing this article turn to Part II of 2 March in which we seek for something strong and positive (and permanent) to be gained from this unfortunate experience: “Seize the moment: A Street Code for Porto Alegre“.]

Many of our readers will know about this, but for those who do not a quick click just below will put you in the picture. What happens when a mad (quite literally) motorist drives his car on a murderous attack through a group of young people on a slow bike ride through the streets of their own city?  Is this just an odd story of one person, one day and one event?  Or are there more profound, more universal  lessons that we should be taking the time to try to learn and share.

We have some clues. And with then some questions to be asked. Perhaps we can in the coming days look at them together in this and other fora.  It would be a pity to miss this opportunity to put our heads together and learn from this awful, stupid, inhuman, but somehow dreadfully familiar  event.

The first is the sheer irony of the fact that these free citizens of the city were peacefully demonstrating to reduce the number of cars on their city streets.

The second is that they were young, sweet, happy and interested enough to take their bike and ride together for what they believed to be a good cause for their city.

The third is the sheer mad fury on the man at the wheel. Will it not be useful if we try to take the time to find out what exactly was going on in his head? He made the point to the police that the cyclists had threatened him and that he was frightened. Frightened enough to plow through a defenseless crowd?  One wonders about his past and earlier examples of anti-social behaviour.

And then — naturally enough given the scenario — that he fled the scene and had to be sought out and arrested by the police.  That too is pregnant with meaning.

I would guess that if we can come to understand his process of derangement and furious action, we will be wiser for it.

Should perhaps the city have accompanied the cyclists in the first place, as often happens in other places that have taken the measure of the potential dangers?

Is Porto Alegre a place in which acts such as this meet a certain level of public approval or at least connivance? Is it the only such place on the planet?

And if so — and it has to be the case in many other cities of all levels of economic and social variety when confronted with such anger as in such cases of road rage — what do we as intelligent, hopefully open-eyed proponents of sustainable mobility have to learn from all this — so that we can in the future seek and find ways to lower the temperature and bring reason into the debates and the behaviour of all involved?

And what about all those around the world that are shocked and wish to weigh in with their thoughts for those who were injured and so badly frightened? How can we send them our messages of love and support?  Shouldn’t we be sending them tens of thousands of messages of solidarity over Twitter and Facebook. We do not want them to feel alone or abandoned. And we all need to learn the lessons. So off we go. Tweet!!

#  # #

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: climate@newmobility.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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17 thoughts on “What can we learn from the murderous attack on cyclists in Porto Alegre on Friday?

  1. I think emails and twitter from around the world would be very good to pressure the City, as it would give visibility to the press… I’m receiving many emails from bicycle activists “bicicletadas” and “massa critica” in Sao Paulo, Brasilia and other places, to organize protests and manifestations these week in solidatity to the bikers in Porto Alegre…

    Please help us make a lot of noise…

    Twitter of the City Hall – Porto Alegre http://twitter.com/Prefeitura_POA

    Municipal Secretaries of Transporte
    Secretário Municipal de Obras e Viação
    Cássio Trogildo
    (51) 3289-8831/3289-8832

    Secretário Adjunto de Obras e Viação
    Adriano Borges Gularte
    (51) 3289-8850

    Planning at Transport Secretariat
    Coordenador da Assessoria de Planejamento
    Antônio Marcos Jeremias
    (51) 3289-8837

    Secretary of Sports
    Secretaria Municipal de Esportes, Recreação e Lazer – SME
    Av. Borges de Medeiros, 2713 – CEP 90110-150
    Parque Marinha do Brasil
    (51) 3289-4850 / 3233-6116
    Fax: (51) 3289-4855

    Secretário: Edgar Meurer
    E-mail: edgarmeurer@sme.prefpoa.com.br
    Politics and Local Governance
    Secretaria Municipal de Coordenação Política e Governança Local – SMGL
    Praça Montevidéo, 10 CEP: 90010-170
    (51) 3289-3766 / 3669
    Fax: (51) 3289-3614

    Secretário: Cezar Busatto
    E-mail: busatto@smgl.prefpoa.com.br
    Human Rights
    Secretaria Municipal dos Direitos Humanos e Segurança Urbana – SMDHSU
    Rua João Alfredo, 607 – CEP: 90050-230
    (51) 3289-7022 / 7023
    Fax: (51) 3289-7022
    Secretário: Nereu DÁvila
    E-mail: nereudavila@sdhsu.prefpoa.com.br

    The Mayor’s name is José Fortunati and his telephone is 55. (51) 3289-3600

    Abracos amigo,

  2. Dear Eric,

    Very good post! We, in São Paulo, did a beautiful and peaceful walk yesterday on the main avenue of the city.
    Please suggest everybody to use the rash tag #naofoiacidente in their Tweets (meaning #”it was not an accident”).
    Thank you for your support. Very meaningful!
    JP Amaral

  3. Pingback: Driver hit cyclists at Brazil bicycle “Critical Mass” — JZ88 folding bike blog

  4. Streets designed for cars injure people. Its obvious when the injured are not protected by the same mass of steel like children, the elderly and cyclists. Cars also run into each other- with a significantly higher mortality and injury rate than national wars, murder, and standard crime. Only industrial diseases like lung cancer have a higher mortality rate.
    Yet it would be difficult to find a police or public works department or city council that doesn’t buy into the idea that public health and safety must be turned over to cars, everywhere, from tiny city centers and neighborhood cores to gridlocking schools. And the bond system that financed this system, now going broke, after borrowing from our children, has not done anything to change their minds.
    This is Quaddafi, driving against the flow of history, today flowing with feet on the street.

  5. dear eric, thanks.like JP, I was in the walk yesterday at Avenida Paulista, São Paulo. please tag in yours tweets the hash tag #naocoiacidente. thanks a lot for your suport.

    • Hi.

      I would like to make a small correction:
      the correct hashtag is #naofoiacidente (like JP wrote), and not #naocoiacidente (like ogum777 wrote).

      Thanks for all your support!

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  9. [Editor’s note: We print this, one of two, notes from Mr. Kee, as a reminder that there are other ponts of view that need to be understood on these matters. This is part of the policy landscape. For the information of any cyclists who may happen live in the Vancouver area, that is where you can find Mr Kee on the road.]

    If a mass of bikers don’t blockade a road with the purpose of making a point & aggravating drivers, the road rage wouldn’t have happened. This is as ignorant as the Right Wing Conservatives in the USA blaming terrorists for everything without looking at what kind of constant pressure & destabilization they themselves cause in the Middle East & the surrounding areas.

    There are far better civilized ways to promote bike usage than breaking the law.

    On that note, the next biker that purposely runs a stop sign to cut me off with the “I’m on a bike and you’re burning gas, so I’m better than you” will end up under my wheels as well. I had this b*tch do that to me on a big street, and when I blared out of shock, she didn’t even look back, showing the fact that she did that on purpose because she feels entitled to do it. Whatever maneuvers another vehicle wouldn’t do in front of me, bikers shouldn’t do either – at least that’s how I ride my bike when I leave my car at home.

    If you really want to change the world, make some f*cking money, lobby your MLA & the local authority bodies who regulate such things, and educate people more on sharing the road & bike safety, and also make sure to educate the bikers that they are not better than motorists – they are mere equals.

  10. Dear Colleagues,

    I am João Paulo Amaral, environmental and mobility manager, and I participate on the Critical Mass São Paulo.

    Here in São Paulo we are building forces in three levels:
    1. Public (and pacific) manifestation. On Monday we organized a very nice walk through Paulista Avenue (the main avenue in São Paulo) in solidarity for our friends in Porto Alegre. Here are the results with a nice video: http://vadebike.org/2011/03/como-foi-a-manifestacao-de-apoio-aos-ciclistas-de-porto-alegre/
    Many other cities are doing the same: http://vadebike.org/2011/03/mais-manifestacoes-pelo-que-ocorreu-em-porto-alegre/
    In this level, I believe it would be important that the whole world is organized on this level, not necessarily to demand a punishment to the driver from Porto Alegre, but mainly to emphasize the need of respect and public policies for pedestrians and cyclists all around the blog, against the violence in traffic.

    2. Political mobilization: We also believe a political mobilization is necessary to put pressure on this matter I just said above. Here in São Paulo we are mobilizing all the institutions and society to write a collective letter, signed by all these entities, demanding that public administrators and traffic authorities use the law and punish any kind of act that can potentially cause harm to pedestrians and cyclists and other non-motorized vehicles. We have all the law in our favor, but they are not applied. We need to change this scenario and we need the help from all of you!

    3. Virtual mobilization: In twitter, we are using the rash tag #naofoiacidente, meaning “it was not an accident!” Please use this text followed by your tweets! Lets make this global!

    Thank you for your attention and support.

    Best regards,

    João Paulo Amaral
    Cel: +55 11 9680-6781
    skype: jpmamaral

  11. Dear all

    It is difficult to keep on looking to the video till the end. I agree with all of you, we should stand up.

    I propose that the global community expresses their deep regret for the victims of this horrible attack and our support to the people who have the courage to fight for the rights of people to ride a bike in traffic. In addition, we should urge the Brasilian authorities to bring justice, through the court and through law. Pedestrians and cyclists should be defended in a way that motorists are obliged to take responsiblity for their safety, always, under any circumstances.
    I would recommend that our Brasilian colleagues in Porto Alegre and the UCB compose a petition, which we sign up until the end of this month and involve e.g. the participants of Velo City Sevilla 23-25 of March 2011, in this.


    Roelof Wittink, Director
    Leadership Award Cycling Promotion 2010. Cycling Embassy of Denmark
    I-ce = Interface for Cycling Expertise
    Trans 3, 3512 JJ Utrecht, The Netherlands
    tel: +31 (0)30 2304521 fax: +31 (0)30 2312384
    email (general): i-ce@cycling.nl
    email (personal): roelof.wittink@cycling.nl
    website: http://www.cycling.nl
    NGO registration KvK41265203

  12. Whilst this is a regrettable incident I have felt both embarassed and scared by the confrontational behaviour that some participants on CM rides exhibit. Let’s see what emerges after the dust settles. Something obviously escalated the issue with the car reported to have followed the group for some distance and the driver claiming the cyclists were slapping the car – presumably part of an escalating situation of mutually antagonising action.

    I contrast the cycling CM in London with the mass line skater nights where the skaters make no attempt to block the traffic for the sake of it but slip smoothly through the congested streets, making a far more effective call to those trapped in their tin boxes “join us, have fun, and get home more quickly” I’ve seen a US clip where a cyclist makes a deliberate effort to obstruct a driver and ends up with the bike crushed. If you want to take the moral high ground you don’t sink to the level of those you seek to shame.

  13. Pingback: Atropello Masivo de ciclistas en Porto Alegre, Brasil « Blog de Diego Puente

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