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Decision to reopen Calle Padre Aguirre to traffic in El Centro draws mixed reactions

Cuenca’s transportation office has reopened Padre Aguirre to vehicular traffic between Calles President Córdova and Sucre. The street, which runs besides San Francisco Plaza and the flower market, had served as a pedestrian-only mall for more than a year. Officials said the street would remain open to traffic until December 31 when a a decision will be made to make the change permanent or return the street to pedestrian status.

Calle Padre Aguirre at the intersection with Mariscal Sucre.

“We made the decision based on the need to stimulate business in the historic district and reduce pressure on other El Centro streets,” the Mobility Management Directorate said in a prepared statement. “This will not be a major thoroughfare and we expect the street to be a space shared by pedestrians and drivers.”

Several business owners in the area objected to the change, saying the city should be creating more pedestrian-only streets, not eliminating them. “Because of San Francisco Plaza and the flower market, this block is becoming popular with tourists and we should be working to attract more of them,” said Marco Quito, whose apartment fronts the street. “Many cities are improving conditions for pedestrians in their historic areas and Cuenca should be too.”

Many of the merchants at the flower market and on San Francisco Plaza applauded the opening. “We have suffered for years through construction and lately the protests and we need help to bring more traffic into Centro,” said clothing vendor Alfonso Castro. “The cars are moving slowly so people will still be able to walk on the street.

Flower merchant Dolores Reyes said she had mixed emotions about the change. “I don’t think it will make much difference since there won’t be much traffic. People liked being able to walk down to the plaza and I think they will still be able to do it.”

City Councilman Cristian Zamora, a member of the traffic commission, called the decision a mistake and questioned the action of officials in yielding to demands from merchants. “This is a clear reversal of the urban plan that we have developed for the city,” he said.  “We just spent a million dollars for a transportation plan that recommended that we pedestrianize more areas of El Centro. Am I missing the logic of this decision?”

A transportation office spokeswoman responded that the status of many El Centro streets will be reevaluated before the tram begins operation.