Friday, April 11, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #7 -Street Car for Cuenca - Glen Birbeck

SOC #7 Street Car for Cuenca

One hundred twenty years ago they were called street cars or trolleys. As the innovation was introduced throughout the developed world it evolved. It was elevated in places (the "L" in Chicago) and depressed in other places, (the subway), where the streets were too crowded. It served the needs of cities experiencing explosive growth.  The automobile didn't kill the street car but it put a serious dent in its expansion.

Today there is a new reason for adding this century old mode of travel to a city. In a word, pollution. The train, the LRV (light rail vehicle) is clean. With hydroelectric as its energy source its pollution footprint is zero. In Cuenca it is a partial solution to a major problem - bus diesel engine exhaust.

Nothing in life is totally good or bad. As the cartoon suggests, the Cuenca bus system is good, on balance, Not perfect. The fly in the ointment is sooty, unburned hydrocarbon in black or grey cough inducing clouds. I do not exaggerate.

Note to folks new to Cuenca: Do NOT rent (or dios forbid, buy) a property at a corner where a bus line turns or stops. The nasty clouds of exhaust, even several stories up, will prove unacceptable. This is the voice of experience.

The solution, or beginnings of a solution, is called Tranvia.

Light rail street cars for Cuenca. The first line, from just past the airport to Control Sur, is two years out. Control Sur is the southern gateway to Cuenca. But, this line will only displace a small percentage of the bus traffic in the city. A few percent reduction in pollution. But, it's a start and a serious attempt to address the problem.

Technically the diesel engine is very difficult to match for power, endurance and cost of operation. Keeping these engines tuned up would reduce the pollution greatly but the operators can not, or will not do this consistently. As in many areas, the authorities lay down the law, things improve some, then when the spotlight moves, things degrade back to where they were. But, all things considered, Tranvia is a major step in the right direction.

Glen Birbeck