By Bill Keyes
While I have written negative comments about the tram in the past I will refrain this time. However, I would like to point out a couple of issues and see if anyone agrees with me. First, do you think there is, at present, traffic congestion in Cuenca, sometimes almost gridlock, in El Centro? Second, do you think when the tram starts operating the congestion will get better or worse?
Next, and this will sound like rambling but bear with me. One of the things that make cities function well as far as transportation goes is the ability of people to know what their options are to travel around town. Walking, buses, taxis and private cars are the main modes of transportation. So a functioning city has all these things in place and people use them every day and can depend on them. For example, the bus system has certain routes that are always the same and rarely change, so people can depend on them to get to work. However if a bus route were to change, the public should then be informed before it changes so people can adjust if the change affects them. A change like this would not be hard for bus riders.
So the issue then, is what kind of impact will the tram have on other types of transportation when it begins to operate.
Walking? Not much of an impact as you will still be able to walk any where you want. If you encounter a street with train tracks you can cross it like you would any other street.
Buses? Yes, some impact. So if the transportation planners know before the tram start date what the changes will be they can educate the public on what routes will change so people can adjust accordingly.
Cars, trucks, and motorcycles? Major impact, especially in El Centro.
I will start in El Centro, where most intersections have traffic lights. I have no idea how the lights are timed in El Centro. In most cities, the entire system is controlled by computers and is based on extensive traffic flow monitoring. In order to do this, every street in the area has monitors that record the traffic flow on every block, in all directions. This is done by putting a cable across the street which hooks up to a box on the side of the street which then records the number of cars crossing it and the time of day. This usually takes many months to accomplish. Then this data is fed into the computer which then uses the data and programs the lights accordingly.
Now, for the tram to have the right-of-way at all times, the lights along the route at intersections have to be controlled by the tram itself. In other words, the lights at those intersections have to be programmed so the tram can pass through. How is this done? Well, normally the tram triggers the lights to change ahead of its arrival at intersections.
Remember when you were driving and came to a train crossing and the bars were going down? That was because the train some distance before it got to the crossing had electronically triggered it.
So this is how the tram should work and how it is done in most cities throughout the world. So how are they doing it here? I don’t know but it will take a lot of planning, new wiring. (I believe I read they were going to install 1,200 new traffic lights). So when this is all done the tram will function like it is supposed to.
So you say what is your problem with this? Well, my concern is what will happen at all the streets that cross the tram route, not only in El Centro but all along the route.
Take for example the redondel at Remigio Crespo and Avenida de Las Americas. These redondels, which are an efficient way to move traffic work incredibly well in Cuenca. This will have to change because when the tram goes through the redondels, all traffic will have to stop. So, drivers instead of yielding the right of way to each other will be stopped for maybe up to a minute every time a tram passes. So the 1,200 traffic lights will have to be installed to control the right-of-way for the tram.
So then the other traffic lights on the rest of the streets that cross the tram will be dependent on the light at the intersection of the tram. I believe this will seriously increase the traffic congestion in El Centro, but that’s just my opinion.
I won’t go on but just want to point out that these changes will go into effect some sunny day early next year and will have a major impact on the driving habits of Cuencanos. We can only hope that the drivers affected will have the patience to adjust. Time will only tell.
So again, I ask the question I posed at the top. Will the traffic congestion in Cuenca and El Centro in particular get better or worse when the tram starts operating?