February 27 2013

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

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?

Credits: Images provided by the Municipality of Cuenca. Data linked to sources.

Steven Petsinis

Steven Petsinis is an Urban Planning graduate from Melbourne, Australia. He has been involved in Urban Research and Development projects in Medellin, Colombia and Saigon, Vietnam and is currently pursuing his masters in Melbourne, Australia. His main interests lie in land use and social planning, sustainability, as well as studies involving globalization and it's effect on third world communities. He has recently spent one year travelling throughout North and South America, as well as Europe, where he has gathered material and inspiration for his upcoming blogs for The Grid.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 at 9:52 am and is filed under Infrastructure, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


4 Responses to “From Preservation to Pioneering: The Transformation of The Historical Center of Cuenca, Ecuador”

  1. Jennifer Garcia Says:

    Thanks for this post, Steven! Exciting news for such a beautiful Ecuadorian town!

  2. Enrico Espiritu Says:

    I fell in love with Cuenca, Ecuador. Hope to be there some day.

    Keep it up Steven.

  3. CARUANA Claude Says:

    Hi Steven,
    I am working in the Tramway installations since the last 15 years in Europe and Middle Est. I have a long experience of South & Central America for leaving in Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica. Please, contact me, I will send all my détails to you, I will also love to work in Ecuador, I speak French, English and Spanish fluently…
    Best regards
    Claude Caruana

  4. Steven Petsinis Says:

    Hi Claude

    Thanks for the Post.
    Perhaps it may be best to email me with the details.


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