Almost everyone agrees that Cuenca’s historic district needs to improve its pedestrian friendliness. The problem is balancing the area’s social, cultural and tourism needs with those of businesses that depend on motorized transportation.
A group of planners from Andalusia, Spain, working with city officials to develop a 2025 transportation plan, says it is critical that Cuenca reduce the number of cars, trucks and buses in the district. The group, called Junta de Andalucía, says that the emphasis should be placed on pedestrians and bicycles, not cars, and claims that 90% of public roadway space is currently devoted to motorized traffic.
Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera agrees but says the city faces major challenges in weaning itself from the car culture. “Within a few years, I believe you will see more pedestrian-only areas in El Centro and fewer vehicles; there is no doubt that it will happen,” he said. “The hard part will be getting everyone to agree on a plan.”
Among those most affected will be owners of city buses and parking lots. Both groups have significant political clout and say they will oppose any plan that affects their livelihoods.
Several areas in the district have been designated as future pedestrian-only areas, including Calle Gran Colombia between Padre Aguirre and General Torres, and the bridge over Rio Tomebamba below the Calle Hermano Miguel escalinata. The Gran Colombia block will be closed to cars once construction on the tram begins early next year. Pedestrians continue to dodge cars and trucks, however, on the Tomebamba bridge.
Plans for the rejuvenated San Francisco Plaza include a pedestrian mall along the project’s west side, on General Torres, but it will run for only one block. City transportation officials say that the elimination of roadways for cars and buses will require many months of planning to reroute traffic.
Jose Luis Cañabate, who directs Junta de Andalucía, says Cuenca must find ways to “disincentivize” the use of private cars, making El Centro a place where people want to walk. “The city must redistribute space in the district, making it more available to pedestrians and less to motor vehicles,” he says.
The Adalusians, who have advised more than 200 cities worldwide in developing transportation plans, say that traffic should be restricted in the district. “The priority should be for vehicles involved in business deliveries and those of people who live there. The rest should be eliminated,” Cañabate said.
Both Cabrera and Cañabate believe that the new tram system will provide the incentive to reduce the number of vehicles on El Centro streets. “This gives us a logical focus to achieve a higher level of pedestrian friendliness. It will also allow the city to remove more buses from Centro, which are the biggest contributor to air pollution.” says Cañabate.
He adds that his group is advising Cuenca to revise its current 90% motorized vehicle street use to 40% for pedestrians, 20% for private vehicles, and 40% for public transportation.