Cuenca’s transportation office says that the city’s new tram system, Tranvía de los Cuatro Rios, will mean a reduction in the number of cars, trucks and buses on the historic district. The problem, says Gerard Fernandez, city transportation chief, is planning for the reduction.
Fernandez says his office also plans to make the historic district more pedestrian friendly, converting some streets to pedestrian malls.
The office is also working on ways to minimize the impact on businesses that might result from the tram. Some business owners along the tram route are protesting that the project will reduce traffic they depend on. One group is demanding that the project be stopped altogether.
To business and homeowners in the district, Fernandez is emphasizing that the train will reduce pollution and street noise. He also doubts that it will increase vibrations that could affect historic buildings, a major contention of the protesters. “There are shock absorbing features built into the construction so there may be even less vibration than we have now with buses rolling over cobblestones,” he says.
Although the city is awaiting comments from a team of UNESCO technicians who visited the city two weeks ago, Fernandez says that the city will be able to accommodate minor design changes to the project if the team recommends them.
Fernandez says that the city and tram engineers are working on ways to mitigate the impact of construction on businesses located on Calles Gran Colombia, Mariscal La Mar and Sangurima, streets where the tram line will be installed. “We have taken the time to prepare for construction to minimize the effect on those who live nearby. We are also making sure that we preserve city heritage along the construction route,” he says.
Fernandez says the city has delayed the beginning of construction in the historic district, pushing back the start date from April to July. He says the delay gave his office more time to communicate with residents about the project, something he says was not done during the administration of former Mayor Paúl Grande.
A key challenged faced by traffic planners is how to reduce traffic in the district. Cristian Moyano, municipal transit coodinator, says that the tram will eliminate vehicular traffic from several El Centro streets. “It gives us a chance to create a more pedestrian friendly historic district but it also means we will have to impose restrictions on the number of vehicles coming in.”
The tram will also eliminate as many as 30% of the bus routes in the historic district.
Cuenca has contracted with the city of Barcelona, Spain to develop a new traffic plan for areas affected by the tram. “The tram is changing the way we think about traffic in the district,” Moyano says.
Photo caption: Tranvía de los Cuatros Rios