Falling over in Rio


I was once strolling along the prom in Leblon, admiring some of the new work on the paving stones (pedra portuguesa), when I bumped into an old friend. He told me not to walk looking down, it looks bad, and is bad for posture – you’re supposed to be exercising and improving your health. I said yes but in Rio walking anywhere is a health hazard, as the pavements (sidewalks) are so uneven. Even newly done, there are bumps and holes, and someone always manages to kick a stone loose, leaving a hole which grows in size until city maintenance is sent to replace all the little stones.

My worst experience was falling down in the center of Rio – Praça Pio X to be exact. You have probably seen how the tarmac sometimes lumps up into waves where the buses pass. Well, there were waves in this tarmac, and I tripped on one of them, going flat in front of an impatient line of buses and cars. The light was changing. I was in a business suit and my briefcase had shot across the road ahead of me. I got up, waved to the bus drivers, who – bless them – all waited patiently while I grabbed my briefcase and continued across the road. Now you know how motorbikes love to shoot through the crossings as the light changes? Well, as I put my foot on the opposite curb, a bike whizzed past behind me, missing me by fractions of an inch. One more second’s delay and I wouldn’t be telling this story. 

There has been an enormous amount of work done on Rio’s pavements over the last few years. Whole new projects for most bairros in Zona Sul, with new patterns, balls, posts (‘pirulitos’) and ‘fradinhos’ to stop cars parking, ramps for the disabled, different types of surface, including red brick for the bike tracks, which are springing up everywhere – yet another hazard for the poor pedestrian. Don’t get me started on bikes, I could fill pages. The penalties for parking cars on the sidewalk have had the right effect, and today the obstacles put there to stop them are not really necessary, in fact City Hall has issued an edict telling buildings to remove any ‘fradinhos’ on their section of the pavement. For those not in the know, a ‘fradinho’ is a concrete post, slightly conical, giving the impression of a monk in habit. 

However, much has yet to be done to make Rio’s sidewalks truly safe. There are too many dips and rises, surprising the unwary, too many uneven curbs, too few warnings or painting to mark steps. The elderly are in permanent danger of taking a fall, and possibly landing them in hospital. Click here for a video of some of the recorded cases, and samples of dangerous paving. 

Even the ‘fradinhos’ or ‘pirulitos’ as the more modern ones are called, are a danger. We had a man fall over one of them in front of our building, and as the building is responsible for the pavement  facing it, he nearly sued us. Luckily he was an understanding neighbor, and nothing happened. However, our ‘sindica’ soon had all the concrete ‘fradinhos’ removed. The Prefeitura has overall control as to the appearance of the sidewalk, but the buildings have to maintain their own particular section. Just to finish the story – and this is the main reason for starting it – I fell over again today. This time climbing off the road onto the curb, there was a double curbstone (meio-fio), and I tripped and fell. No serious injury fortunately. They say you can sue the Prefeitura, but I’m not sure.