The city of Cuenca wants to make the historic district more pedestrian-friendly by creating “superblocks” in the area around Parque Calderon. The municipal transportation office announced the project will begin in early 2020.
A superblock is a Spanish urban planning concept adopted in the late 1980s that controls vehicular traffic in designated areas by limiting speed to 10 kilometers per hour or less, encouraging road-sharing with pedestrians, bicycles and electric scooters.
In the first phase, the plan will involve nine blocks around Parque Calderon, affecting Calles Gran Colombia, Padre Aguirre, President Córdova, Antonio Borrero, Benigno Malo, Luis Cordero, Simón Bolívar and Mariscal Sucre.
“The plans limits the amount of traffic by drastically reducing the speed limit through various traffic calming devices,” says Guilherme Chalhoub, director of Cuenca’s transportation office. “Because of the speed restriction, only the traffic that has a purpose to be in an area, such as that of residents and small delivery vehicles, will use superblocks.
According to Chalhoub, the superblock concept has been widely adopted in Europe and proven successful, particularly in historic areas of cities where streets are narrow and pedestrians and vehicles mix. “Because of the low speed of cars, pedestrians are in little danger of being in a vehicle related accident and they tend to walk freely through the reduced amount of traffic that exists.”
Another benefit, he says, is making an area more attractive to those with disabilities. “Now, many disable people are afraid to cross streets for fear of accidents.”
The city presented the plan to historic district residents and business in recent weeks and has received mostly favorable reviews. “There are some businesses that disagree with it, such as commercial parking operations, but other small businesses and residents are in favor,” Chalhoub said, adding that meetings with residents and business owners will continue until the plan is implemented.
The superblock plan for Cuenca is the result of several studies by European consultants and the University of Cuenca urban planning institute, LlactaLAB. In one of its reports, LlactaLAB said increased pedestrianization will benefit tram ridership.
One enthusiastic supporter is Luis Sanmartín, who represents the owners of Cuenca bars and restaurants. “This follows the worldwide trend of making city centers and historic districts attractive to pedestrians, who are the residents and tourists in the area and we fully support it.”
He adds that part of the plan to allow outdoor seating at bars and restaurants, which is currently restricted. “Businesses will be able to use some sidewalk space which has long been allowed in Europe.”