Progress or what?

When I first moved to Merida, it was a very different place than it is now. There were few of the services we have today. There weren’t nearly so many choices… like where to shop, where to eat out… what movie to watch. Entertainment was limited, and to a large degree, we had to devise our own.

There were a lot less people living here too – about 320,000 in 1976. Now Merida is a city of approximately 1,000,000. That’s quite a jump. Basically the population has increased 300,000 every decade. And the roads? Well, to tell the truth, they are not much different than when I arrived.  City planners never imagined there would be so many cars in 2011.

So now it has been decided that an underpass is to be built to ease the traffic along Montejo and the roads that traverse it east / west. This has raised a lot of controversy. The state government has been criticized as has just about everyone else who agrees this is necessary. Yes, a few properties will be affected… yes, some trees will be cut down… yes, there will be awful disruptions in traffic while the construction is going on… yes, the businesses along the route will be seriously impacted.

But what else can be done? Those who oppose the idea have no better one. They offer no other suggestions as to where another underpass might be built.

It is upsetting when our routines are changed. Our principal theater has been closed for repairs. The arches at Santa Lucia Plaza are covered up because they are being restored and I agree… it is a mess! But what is the alternative?

We can’t get about 700,000 people to move somewhere else, thus freeing up the roads and in fact we are going to need to make room for 100s of 1,000s more citizens before Merida’s growth stops. ‘Better we stop whining and get with the program!                                                             

My cars in 1976 and now….

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Progress or what?

  1. Rusty

    It is so sad that Merida is being short-sighted with the “solution” of the tunnel. Paseo de Montejo is a boulevard, not a high-speed trafficway. A deep ditch through the area will utter change the ambiance of the street. And there is no way to make up for the missing center median trees which will be lost – leading to more hot unshaded pavement.

    “We have more cars, therefore we must pave more” is an endless feedback loop. As numerous studies across Europe and the US have shown, you “cannot build your way out of congestion.” As more or faster lanes are built, additional traffic gravitates to the area and congestion remains equal. The choke point will simply move from this glorieta to a traffic light or another intersection.

    Merida’s car population has tripled over the last dozen years. This is primarily due to easy credit programs begun under Fox. Easy credit for cars leads to more gasoline consumption which leads to more funding for the federal government. But that is not a long-term situation. For one thing, the supply of petroleum — especially Mexico’s supplies — are limited.

    There will come a point in the foreseeable future when cars become too expensive for many people again. Or at least too expensive to drive. And then Merida will have an ugly, expensive ditch that has changed the nature of a fine boulevard… for…? A few years of faster traffic. Not sure how the conclusion is reached that East-West traffic will benefit most, when it is North-South that becomes a straight-shot through.

    The major reason glorietas and other areas of Merida become congested is actually the poor driving skills and habits of local drivers. When human population only doubles, but auto population triples, you know that many new drivers are on the road. Part of congestion will ease as driving skills improve. Many of today’s drivers have never had a family car. Over time or through Darwin’s Law, skills will improve.

    A far better solution would be to map out seldom used roads today which could be improved or had traffic controls changed to provide additional routes North-South and East-West without grade-changing urban trafficways — which 1970s era “urban development” in the USA proved were neighborhood-killing structures. Across the USA, cities are tearing out elevated and sunken trafficways and returning to grade level. As this is done, neighborhoods become vibrant again.

    It is not really the case that there are already underpasses in Merida. There are streets under bridges. That is not the same thing as a below-grade underpass. A street under a bridge is momentarily in the shade. An underpass will become a high speed raceway in a ditch. It will disrupt pedestrian access and completely change the nature of a multi-use street to auto-friendly only.

    Merida has the chance to avoid mistakes made in many US cities and take a leap ahead to future urban solutions. Instead of turning over more and more resources to automobiles, Merida is actually a prime candidate for light-rail systems and other modern urban transport that has a chance in the world of dwindling petroleum supplies.

  2. Juanita

    I just wish someone could explain to me what the purpose of the underpass is. I try to picture it: I’m driving north on Montejo, I go underneath the fountain, and continue driving north presumably without losing much speed. What exactly did that achieve in terms of improving the traffic situation in this city?

    • It’s the east / west traffic that will be most eased plus we won’t take our lives in our hands trying to get around a way over-taxed glorieta which is designed for moderate flow not drivers hell-bent on killing one another! (They must be wider to accommodate more cars)The east – west access in the city is extremely limited right now which causes huge difficulties for drivers traveling in that direction

      • Juanita

        Thanks…hmmm…I’m not convinced…and I wouldn’t want to be underneath when an accident takes place…I always hated the tunnel on the freeway between Vancouver and Tsawassen too! I guess we can only hope for the best because I think one thing is certain, no matter how much opposition there is, whether founded or not, I doubt if the decision to implement this underpass will be changed.

      • It isn’t really a tunnel, it’s an underpass… we already have several and they haven’t crashed down yet… I don’t know, the polemic is strong but at least you and I can agree to disagree… not like some people we both know!

  3. mcm

    Interesting post, as always….
    Yes, change is inevitable, and often opposition to change is rooted in nostalgia, and short-term interests.
    But, in the case of the proposed underpass, much of the criticism has to do with the lack of transparency — presumably the Ayuntamiento has contracted studies of traffic patterns, geology, hydrology, etc. before coming up with plan, but these reports have not been presented. Instead, there is a mockup of what the new intersection will look like, but answers no questions regarding it’s impact.
    Opponents have asked: what is the plan for the adjacent intersections, through which the ”speeded up” traffic will be funneled? The major adjacent intersections are controlled by traffic lights — will there be additional backups? How will traffic on the smaller sidestreets integrate into Circuito/Montejo without the slowdown at the BK glorietta? Although the mayor has alluded to a comprehensive road plan, including additional underpasses and overpasses at some intersections (Itzaes and Circuito Colonias, for example), this plan has not been presented (this is particularly disappointing, since Presidente Araujo pledged that comprehensive transport reform would be a major goal of her short administration, and her background in urban issues made me think that she actually might follow through on pushing this).
    Is this the intersection that is the most conflicted in Merida? The Ayuntamiento could quiet much of the opposition (with the exception of that grounded solely in political concerns), by presenting details of pre-project studies, and the long-term road plan. The fact that this hasn’t been done gives weight to those opponents who doubt that such studies/plans exist.
    Finally, it is not true that opponents have proposed no alternatives — alternatives such as school buses (much of the traffic at the Burger King glorietta occurs at the pickup/drop off times for the private schools in the area), upgrading alternate/parallel routes, etc. have been mentioned by various groups. These may or may not be viable, but without an open, transparent discussion, we’ll never know.
    Thanks for listening.

    • I know… I have heard all the criticisms and I’m sure some are true in some ways. I think that this project will end up as many others – over buget, over-time and “as best it can”. This is the sad truth of most public works in Mexico (and I suspect other countries) Political opposition is another piece of the puzzle. There is a certain daily that has dedicated itself to creating bad opinion about the current government while another goes flat out to building it up… Both lack serious perspective. I have come to feel that when something looks like a done deal (as does the underpass) I hunker down and deal with it

  4. It seems that no one can ever agree on solutions to traffic congestion in our cities. I believe that the only real solution will mean giving up our dependence on automobiles and utilizing mass options such as light rail. A light rail line is slated to open in my city, Norfolk, in a few months ( two years behind schedule and millions in overruns), but I have my doubts on how successful it will be. It is simply too easy to hop in the car, drive to work or to Sam’s, Home Depot, etc. Our area has multiple tunnels and underpasses which create traffic nightmares when it floods or there is an accident. Traffic backups for hours.

    • I see where you’re headed… it doesn’t matter howmany pieces are put into place… the most important thing is for citizens to have responsible attitudes. It is too easy to put personal comfort and ease ahead of what’s best for the community

  5. jjrose

    You’re writing about Morelia!

    • Actually Jennifer, I have been to Morelia and your city and Merida share many similarities. However, Morelia has a much less severe climate. and you have all those orchids too. I hope to return one day soon.

  6. It sounds like you have a nice city. Thanks for blogging.

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