Transitography: Quito, Ecuador

I was fortunate enough to vacation in Ecuador last week. I was certainly impressed with  the country’s diverse, natural  landscapes, but also appreciated how the capital city of Quito is  starting to approach transportation.

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The above is not a streetcar or light rail station. Rather, it Quito’s Bus Rapid Transit system called Trole (Trolley Bus).  Note that riders (more than 220,000 per day on its  single  line) pay the fare before entering the station, which speeds boarding time. Also, most of the line operates on physically-separated bus lanes with signal prioritization so that the system does not have to compete with motor vehicle traffic.  Additionally, buses run on short headways, 60 seconds during peak hours, which allows for an extremely high level of service. While  such BRT systems have yet to find much traction in the United States, South American cities  like Bogota and Quito seem to be having good success with BRT as a cheaper than rail, but more effective than  normal bus, transportation solution.

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Quito has also implemented phase 1 of its first physically-separated bicycle system, dubbed Ciclo-Q. The fledgling system operates within the road right-of-way in many places, while using sidewalk space in others. In my estimation, those segments within the roadway (pictured above) operate more smoothly than those on the sidewalk where too many curb cuts, fairly narrow sidewalks, and driveways interrupt the bikeway, create conflict with pedestrians, and compromise safety (pictured below). Bikeways on sidewalks have been known to work in many places, but are typically placed on sidewalks with much wider widths and offer a commensurate level  of safety countermeasures, such as  prioritization signals and stark pavement/material contrast to delineate the bikeway.

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Pati Menas, the city’s alternative transportation coordinator had this to say about  the Ciclo-Q system and its low level of use, “even if now there are not many cyclists on the route, it is necessary to provide the people with infrastructure. Otherwise, we will never start promoting non-motorized transport.”  I couldn’t agree more and expect that with their own “Bike Miami” like ciclovias now humming, the Ciclo-Q will only see more use as the network is expanded.

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In the small  town of Banos, located just outside the larger city of Cuenca,  I was particularly enamored with the ratio of pedestrian space to motor vehicle space. Within the town center, along its traditional grid, the roadway comprises no more than 1/3 of the public realm.  The rest of the space is dedicated purely to pedestrians in the form of wide sidewalks. This ratio makes for an enriched street life and allows for safe bicycling within the town’s streets. Sadly,  such a humane ratio is normally just the opposite in American cities, where pedestrians are lucky to have 10% of the space between buildings.

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Other traffic control devices  that caught my eye were the sheer number of speed bumps used within the Ecuadorian roadway system. One may find them throughout the cities and even on  some of the more rural highways.  Speed bumps can be controversial for many types of users, but they are certainly well-respected traffic-control devices in Ecuador. Finally, when traveling around the country one notices dozens of unique pavement markings that come in the form of blue hearts. The hearts, I am told, designate the location of traffic fatalities. Such awareness building techniques are sobering, especially when one sees a grouping of hearts. Nonetheless, they offer a vivid reminder that roadway safety remains an important issue. With over 40,000 traffic-related fatalities a year in the United States, one would think that such measures may also prove powerful.

In general, you find that any place you visit outside of the United States seems to have a richer, more embellished public realm. Moreover, transportation innovation also seems to be taking place outside of the US as well.  For those of us who are urbanists, this certainly makes vacationing a real pleasure. However, iIt also provides inspiration for what we can, and should be doing better here in the United States.

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11 Responses to “Transitography: Quito, Ecuador”

  1. 1 Felipe Azenha

    Also worth mentioning, is that the BRT stations are elevated, this cuts valuable seconds per passenger boarding, making the system much more efficient. Great Pics!

  2. 2 Mike Lydon

    Great Point, Felipe.

  3. 3 howard

    Reading about your experiences in Quito and Banos makes me want to hop back onto a plane to Ecuador. What a wonderful country - and I just love Correa. I remember seeing the bus rapid transit lanes pictured above when I visited the country on several previous occasions, but I hadn’t really thought much about it. Interesting to read your impressions. When I was in Ecuador the last time, I rented a car w/ three other friends and drove to Banos - and it took a lot longer than it was supposed to, to get there. The traffic in Quito was horrendous, much worse than Miami. We were stuck in a traffic jam leaving the city for about 4 hours. And having traveled to about 70 countries, the aggressiveness of the drivers there was about the worst I have ever experienced. It was frightening to drive there.

  4. 4 howard

    I thought that Banos was actually quite a distance from Cuenca.

  5. 5 Zuri

    Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries in South America. The weather, the colonial cities and the people are just fantastic. Nothing compares to the landscapes of the Highlands, the lush of the Amazon Jungle Forest, the exotic Beaches of the Coast and the mystery of the Galapagos Islands.

  6. 6 Mike Lydon

    Howard, you would think it was far away…I did. Look it up on Google Maps. As the crow flies, it’s quite close!

  7. 7 crowdpub

    The driving in Quito is horrendous. I would never recommend renting a car there as to the liability issues. One comment stated about the aggressiveness of the drivers which continues to increase. Traffic safety appears to be of no concern and driving on the highways are very dangerous. Last week in Quito the police tore down speed bumps in certain areas that were erected illegally by residents. They were so dangerous they were causing serious damage to vehicles who had no idea they were there. Updated safety and travel information may be viewed at:

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