You can call 2009, “the year of the traffic light” in Cuenca. The fact is painfully evident to downtown pedestrians who are forced to circumnavigate the installation work on almost every block.
Almost all intersections in El Centro that do not already have traffic signals, will be getting them soon. In all, 99 new lights are being installed, the majority of them in the historic district.
According to Cuenca’s municipal traffic authority, the purpose of the signals is to reduce congestion and to improve the efficiency of public transportation. The installation is part of a $5 million program to improve traffic flow throughout the city. In addition to signals, the project will also install video cameras at busy intersections to monitor traffic flow. Results from video observations will allow traffic planners to adjust the timing of traffic signals.
Companies from Italy and Australia are providing the electronic monitoring equipment for the project.
One of the complaints heard most often from Cuencanos and tourists alike, is traffic congestion in El Centro. In a recent article in National Geographic Traveler, in which Cuenca was rated in the top 50 historic cities in the world, the main criticism of the city was traffic and traffic pollution in the historic district. An on-line comment from one travel writer noted: “If they improve the traffic situation in the colonial area and reduce the pollution, Cuenca could become one of the new “hot spots” for tourists. Outside of the downtown area, the air is clean and traffic flows.”
Cuenca architect Fausto Miranda agrees. “We know that we can fix this situation because we have seen it done in other Latin America cities. Medellen, Colombia is a good example.”
Mirando says that improving traffic movement is the first step to upgrading the historic district. “When cars and buses don’t move, the air contamination is much worse and it is bad for both the citizens of Cuenca and the tourists.” According to Miranda, talks are ongoing to reduce emisions of trucks and buses by converting to natural gas and by adjusting bus routes. “I believe we will see major changes in the next few years,” he says.
Photo caption: downtown traffic congestion is a frequenct complaint in Cuenca.