Big changes are coming to El Centro with ‘superblocks’ pilot project
City officials are moving ahead with Cuenca’s second “superblocks” project, this one in a nine-block area around Parque Calderon. The project, intended to encourage alternatives to vehicular traffic, will include the blocks bordered by calles Gran Colombia, Presidente Borrero, Presidente Córdova and Padre Aguirre.
According to Xavier González, coordinator of the El Barranco Foundation, one of the city offices managing the project, the El Centro plan will begin Saturday and Sunday, January 25 and 26. “We are very encouraged by the results of our first project in El Vado, which added bicycle lanes and more pedestrian access,” he said. “That was primarily a traffic management project while the new phase around Parque Calderon will include a broader vision of more efficient use of public space.”
The superblocks concept, proposed by Spanish urban planning consultants, involves the appropriation of space currently used by motor vehicles for public use, including outdoor cafes and cultural performances and exhibitions, with a transportation emphasis on pedestrianism and bicycle use.
“This is a transformation that has been used successfully in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe,” González says. “One of the objectives is to encourage tourism but, more important, it’s to offer better opportunities and experiences for local businesses and residents.”
In preparation for the project, city officials have held workshops and meetings with owners and managers of Cuenca’s hospitality and tourism sectors. “We are explaining to hotels, restaurants and tour companies the superblocks concept,” says Guilherme Chalhoub, Cuenca transportation director.
“Traditionally, there has been resistance from businesses to changes affecting traffic so we are explaining that the reduction of motor vehicle traffic, accompanied by greater numbers of pedestrians, will help businesses. A focus of the plan is help the economy of the historic district.”
Chalhoub says the city has not set an end-date for the superblocks pilot. “We will be monitoring a number of parameters during the experiment, ranging from public response, to business success, to air quality, and after that we will make a decision about making the plan permanent.”
He added that the project is part the city’s overall transportation plan, including the incorporation of the tranvia and changes to bus routes.