Although a report by a UNESCO team assessing Cuenca’s historic district does not recommend major changes to the city’s light rail system — officially, Tranvía de los Cuatros Rios– it has plenty to say about how the city should manage traffic in the historic district.
The study had been ordered by Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera following his mayoral victory over former Mayor Paúl Granda. During the campaign, Cabrera had criticized features of the tram project and, at one time, suggested it should be rerouted outside of the historic district. Those opposed to the project, mostly business and property owners along the tram route in the historic district, had hoped that the UNESCO team would suggest a route change or stopping the project altogether.
Instead, the report recommends no changes to the tram route, concentrating comments instead on integrating the tram with bus lines and using it to reduce private vehicular traffic in El Center, according to city officials who have read it. The traffic problems, the report says, have reached a critical point and should be addressed immediately. It recommends, among other things, that the city create pedestrian malls and add bicycle lanes, and take other measures to reduce the number of private cars traveling through the district.
The report also recommends that the city maintain a continuing inventory of historic buildings in El Centro and improve the decision-making process on issues relating to patrimonial controls that will protect the area’s hstoric character.
“The report will have no effect of the tram route in the historic center,” says city councilman Marco Andrés Ávila. “It does not question the construction plans.”
The report, written in English and translated into Spanish, has not been officially released but a number of city officials and city council members have read it, all drawing similar conclusions. City transportation director Gerard Fernandez says that although the report will not change tram construction, it does offer valuable recommendations for protecting the historical district. “The team that wrote the report are experts in protecting and enhancing historic areas and their ideas will help guide us in decisions about transportation.”
City councilwoman Monserrath Tello, who also serves as director of the Commission for Historical Areas, says that the city is already working on a comprehensive historic district plan and will incorporate many of the recommendations made by the UNESCO team. “We welcome their suggestions; they are valuable to our process,” she says. A recommendation she especially likes is the one to maintain a healthy mix of residences and businesses in El Centro. Since 1970, the district has lost more than 30% of its population, as many residences have been converted to businesses.
The report makes several recommendations about the San Francisco Plaza renovation project, set to begin construction in 2015. It recommends that the area be cleared of the current “commercial clutter” and be an open and “clean area” suitable for public events. The report recommends that the Otavalo textile merchants, currently located on the north side of the plaza, not be relocated. It also says that more study is needed of the underground commercial space that was planned during the Granda administration.
Opponents of the tram say they are disappointed but will continue efforts to derail the project. Since Cabrera ordered the UNESCO study, he has changed his position on the tram, and now says he supports the the original route through El Centro should be maintained.