As last of the three biggest cities of Ecuador, I’ll visit the city with the highest quality of life and considered as the most sustainable one that even appears on some rankings of smart cities.
The expectations are high when I arrive in Cuenca, more in the south and back into the mountains. The temperature is lower than in Guayaquil and the city tends to be more sleepy, than the so called Caribbean city. Nevertheless, it is not as cold as was Quito and not that big either.
Cuenca is rising, both economic and in terms of population and tourism. This evolution can be a curse or a bless for the city, because if not addressed and planned accordingly, these dynamics might undermine the sustainability and quality of the city, even more because of its location in a valley, its expanding possibilities are limited by nature, not only by men.
Arriving by bus, I got to know immediately how extended the bus network is, however I prefer to walk downtown. Not even an hour later I will arrive at the core of the center, indicating the smaller size of the city, compared to Quito and Guayaquil.
My little walk appoints a second feature of the city: the high walkability. The sidewalks are pleasant to walk, several streets are restricted to pedestrians, and the safety of both a lack of traffic and of crime – due to the high amount of police and city safety guards – make walking really an attractive alternative, even for public transportation.
Despites the high walkability of the city, only 14% of the transportations are performed by foot, while only 0,3% by bicycle. King Car dominates the streets of Cuenca, however a special program to promote walking and one to promote cycling should support the modal shift. In 2018, 135 public bike stations should provide 1.500 bikes in the entire city, however on the moment of writing there is nothing remarkable, not even on the pilot phase which already should have been implemented.
I realize after a while that lots of the pedestrian zones are actually not dedicated as such, they are the bedding where in the future a tram will pass. The rails are already there, however there are no stations yet and the squares at the beginning and end are still huge construction sides. ‘Danger’ it says, whereas the pedestrians have to find their selves a way around.
The Four Rivers
Tram 4Rios should become the spine of Cuenca’s transportation system. The project is promising, but the foreseen end date of the project was 2016, while I am writing this in 2018. A lack of funding, I’m not using the word corruption, but feel free to read it that way, postponed the project several times, a story that sounds familiar in the region.
If the project would be completed, I think it might be genius, the route is extensive, and goes around the main shopping streets and markets, and starts close to the terminal, hence covering a huge percentage of the traffic flow.
But that is not the only problem Cuenca has to cope with to keep up its sustainable status, but that’s for another story.