Hundreds protest El Centro street closure

Feb 4, 2020 | 9 comments

Protesters objecting to the closure of Padre Aguirre gathered Monday at San Francisco Plaza. (El Tiempo)

A crowd of about 200 gathered Monday morning to protest the city’s decision to reestablish a block of Calle Padre Aguirre in the historic district as a pedestrian mall. The street had been pedestrianized in January 2019 with the opening of San Francisco Plaza but was reopened to traffic on an experimental basis in November.

Protesters, many of them vendors at San Francisco Plaza and the flower market opposite the cathedral, claimed that restricting vehicles will hurt their businesses and that the city did not provide adequate notice of the street closure. “Enough of these streets for pedestrians!” one man shouted. “We are sick of this. They keep making it harder and harder for us to make a living by keeping away our customers.”

The municipal transportation office, which says it did in fact meet with residents last week regarding the change, said that during the three-month experiment 2,000 cars and light trucks used the street, between Presidente Córdova and Mariscal Sucre, on a daily basis while more than 25,000 pedestrians used it. “It is a safety issue,” a transportation office spokesman said. “When San Francisco Plaza was redesigned the street was designated as a mall for pedestrians and bicycles. It was not meant for traffic.”

Although the protest was peaceful, arguments erupted when some in the crowd said they supported the change, claiming that historic district streets are overcrowded. “We have traffic jams every day so I support the change,” a flower seller told a radio reporter. “These people want more cars but cars don’t shop, pedestrians do.”

In its decision to repedestrianize the block, the transportation office cited a study by the Llactalab research group of the University of Cuenca which indicated that most area vendors and residents supported the change. Transportation chief Guilherme Chalhoub said that additional traffic created by having Padre Aguirre open added to the congestion on Mariscal Sucre. “Much of the traffic from Padre Aguirre turns on Sucre, creating a gridlocked situation for much of the day,” he said.

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