It is hard to believe that just 100 years ago, most people still got around either by foot or (if they were lucky) on horseback. These days, many Americans don’t just drive cars; they couldn’t live without them. As cities continue to siphon off people from the suburbs though, many municipalities are looking for ways to cut down on the increased traffic that comes with too many cars.
San Juan, the capital (and most populous city) of the island of Puerto Rico, is faced with a series of challenges. An over-reliance on cars has left the city over developed and under planned, with many pristine beaches inaccessible, the traffic an absolute nightmare. This is especially true in Isleta, or Old San Juan. But a $1.5 billion infusion of cash hopes to change Old San Juan into a walkable city where cars aren’t allowed.
About 2 million people, around half the total population of Puerto Rico, live and work in and around the city of San Juan. It also has an astonishing 4,300 vehicles per paved mile. That is a lot of cars! Despite Puerto Rico’s best efforts at implementing light rail, including the Tren Urbano line, traffic remains a huge problem for San Juan. A plan has been approved though that would essentially revamp the Isleta, the oldest part of the city,a nd close off large swaths to car traffic.
This plan would not revamp the whole city, which is faced with urban sprawl issues. The port of San Juan is one of the busiest in the world, so this too poses a problem. The plan would essentially close off the Isleta to cars, and introduce new road ways, light rail, and beach access points. The hope is that by making it a “walking” city, both tourism and local residents will benefit. Isleta has experienced a rapid decline in population from over 35,000 residents in the 1950’s to just over 7,000 today. A lot of space is wasted, and many beaches are inaccessible because of poor planning. By remaking Isleta as pedestrian-only, roads could be dug up and more space freed for hotels, houses, and tourism industries. This idea could work a Puerto Rico relies heavily on cruise ship tourism. Could it work elsewhere in the U.S. too? And would you want to live in a city where cars are banned?