SEATTLE - Brazil's coastal city Fortaleza won an international award on Thursday for cutting traffic deaths and making major investments in bus and cycle lanes despite a biting recession.
Brazil's fifth-largest city received the award from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a New York-based think tank, for making it safer to walk, drive and ride bikes in a time of budget constraints.
"Fortaleza has taken the right approach to transport, which is one that moves away from private cars to one that prioritizes and integrates pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users," said the institute's Michael Kodransky.
South America's largest economy is slowly recovering from the deepest recession in decades, which slashed Brazil's gross domestic product by 8 percent between the fourth quarter of 2014 and end-2016.
Despite the downturn, Fortaleza, a northeastern beachfront city of 2.6 million, has installed 108 km (67 miles) of priority bus lanes and 225 km of cycling routes to serve a popular bike share system since 2014, the institute said.
Traffic deaths fell by a third in three years to about 10 per 100,000 people in 2017 because of reduced speed limits, narrowed roads, elevated pedestrian crossings and campaigns to encourage motorcycle drivers to wear helmets, it said.
Fortaleza Mayor Roberto Claudio Rodrigues Bezerra said he prioritized transport because residents had long complained about difficulties moving around the city.
"We diagnosed that citizens had a very high level of dissatisfaction with traffic and transit policies," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The award, given annually since 2005, went to a trio of Brazilian cities - Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo - in 2015 for investments to ramp up public transport ahead of the 2016 World Cup.
Fortaleza also hosted matches that year, but Kodransky, who chaired the award committee, said the it was the city's long-term vision that marked the difference this year.
"The committee's decision is based on the transferability of the win to other cities in the region and beyond," he said.