From Preservation to Pioneering: The Transformation of the Historical Center of Cuenca, Ecuador

The following post comes courtesy of Global Site Plans' The Grid. CNU and Global Site Plans recently teamed up to syndicate Grid content, as its contingent of writers presents a view on the opportunities and issues of urbanization all across the world. CNU will carry select posts from the Grid direct on the CNU Salons.


 In a period of rapid urbanization, many cities are faced with the challenge of reconciling seemingly contradictory objectives. One of the most pressing of these challenges is the imperative to conserve valued and significant buildings and streetscapes of the past whilst providing the infrastructure for modern, efficient, and sustainable public transport. The experience of the Southern Ecuadorian city of Cuenca, a world heritage site and rapidly growing community, provides some interesting observations about how these two goals can be met.

The Historical Center of Cuenca, Ecuador

Strict Urban Planning initiatives introduced in the 1980’s, the addition of the city to UNESCO’s heritage list in 1999, and Cuenca’s colonial setting have helped it become one of the most appealing cities in Ecuador. Walking through the tight cobble-stone streets, or along The Tomebomba river that crosses through the city, Cuenca can almost emulate a charming European city. However, through the city’s strict devotion in preserving the historic center’s urban form, issues have arisen regarding congestion and mobility due to the governments past relatively low emphasis on sustainable public transit planning. The current bus system that services the city center passes through the area at an average speed of just 10 km/h (including stops).

In dealing with the current congestion issues, the city plans to implement by 2014,“Tranvia Quatro Rios,” an electric tramway system that will not only provide more efficient routes within the historic center, but also complement existing and proposed public transportation routes along the peripheries of the city. The system’s inspiration stems from the tram systems that have been successfully integrated in similarly sensitive historical centers in Amsterdam, Bilbao, Lyon, and Vienna.

The Historical Center of Cuenca, Ecuador

Features of the proposed tram system include:

  • Fourteen trams that will run along 21-km of designated tramway routes;
  • A capacity of 272 passengers for each 3- m long tram, as well as a maximum speed of 80-km/h;
  • The ability to complete routes at an average speed of 22-24 km/h (including stops);
  • The projected ability to reduce vehicle congestion by up to 400 vehicles (8%) per hour during peak hours;
  • Integration with a broader suite of strategies to integrate the system to bus and cycle commuters;
  • Security surveillance systems that will be installed on each tram as well as at each tram stop;
  • Designated wheelchair and cycle space on every tram;
  • And seamless movement (no over-hanging cable wires) in certain areas within the center.

Cuenca, Ecuador

Do you think that Europe’s tram culture may be suited in Latin America? Do you know of other similarly sensitive historical centers where tramways may be appropriate?

To read the original post, written by Steven Petsinis, visit Global Site Plans.


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