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'A Tragedy Foretold': Architects Say Rio's Olympic Bike Path Was Destined to Collapse

Architects and engineers say it appears the stunning elevated path, part of which fell into the sea last week killing at least two people, was not built to withstand ocean waves or currents.

by Donna Bowater
Apr 27 2016, 8:05pm

Imagen por Renata Brito/AP Images

A stunning elevated coastal bike path built for this year's Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, and which partially collapsed into the sea last week, was not designed to withstand strong waves or ocean currents — some architects are claiming.

A 50-metre stretch of the Tim Maia cycle route collapsed after it was hit by a rip current last Thursday. At least two people died in the accident that dealt a major blow to the Olympic city's image with the August 5 opening ceremony approaching fast.

Now a growing number of voices are claiming that the structure — which cost 44 million Brazilian reals, or $12.5 million — should never have been built, and should now be knocked down.

"The error began in the project's conception, with the construction method of a fragile pre-cast structure in a place subject to rip currents," said Ana Teresa Nadruz, an urbanist with 40 years experience. "Its breakup was a tragedy foretold."

Pedro Celestino Pereira Filho, president of the Engineering Club, told Good Morning Rio, that he was also certain the problem originated in a faulty design that appeared to at least partially ignore the fact that it was going to be built on top of the ocean.

"There's no doubt the project did not take into account the possibility of a force from below upwards caused by a usual wave at that point," he said.

Related: The Rio Olympics Just Got $500 Million Less Secure

Economist Cleber Pereira added his voice to the outrage at the collapse of the bike path that follows the craggy coastline between the two main Olympic centers.

"Where are the engineers who designed this? A work of this size and it does not preempt natural events like a rip current?" Pereira demanded in the newspaper O Globo. "Where are the architects who designed this?"

In the wake of the accident, the city authorities banned the responsible consortium — Contemat and Concrejato Serviços Técnicos de Engenharia — from bidding for other contracts while an investigation is under way.

A team of experts is examining the structure and a report is expected to take 30 days.

Meanwhile, the tragedy has also added weight to a campaign by members of the Rio de Janeiro council to open a parliamentary inquiry into Olympic contracts and spending. This is fueled by suspicion that corruption may have made things both more expensive and, perhaps, less safe.

"This project was delayed by six months," said Jefferson Moura, who filed the petition to investigate Olympic infrastructure projects. "At this moment, we have to demand absolute transparency for the city of Rio de Janeiro."

Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, was in Greece for the Olympic flame lighting ceremony when the bike path collapsed.

"We will find those responsible, which is certainly not nature," he told reporters. "We will make every effort to ensure that everyone, inside or outside of City Hall, answers for their actions."

The mayor — who had called the structure the "most beautiful bike path in the world" when it was inaugurated in January — promised the path would be repaired and reopened, once all the safety checks had been done.

In the meantime, Nadruz, the architect who specializes in engineering project management, launched a public petition on Wednesday in favor of having the whole route demolished.

The petition, which had got almost 400 signatories by the afternoon, argues that the bike path puts cyclists between the sea and the rock face, with few escape routes in the event of disaster.

"I call on everyone to sign this petition for demolition of the Tim Maia cycle route," the petition states. "This mistaken construction is responsible for two fatalities, and there may be further lives lost."

Related: The Rio Olympics Is Being Used as 'an Excuse' to Evict Poor People From Valuable Land

Follow Donna Bowater on Twitter: @DonnaBow

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