In December 2001, Mayor Carlos Diaz Redondo initiated the pedestrianization experiment, hoping to rid the narrow, colonial-era streets of congestion, noise, and toxic air emissions. During the experiment, auto access was still allowed for residents and emergency vehicles, and for truck deliveries from 4:00 in the morning until 11:00 in the morning. Non-motorized deliveries are permitted all day.
While not popular with all merchants, over 300 businesses have signed a petition to keep the center car free. The measure has dramatically calmed the city’s urban environment creating zones for children to play, tourists to stroll, and residents to enjoy a higher quality of life. With the help of the local office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Cartagena is also investigating a wider sustainable transport vision that will include high-quality public transit, bicycle networks, and dedicated pedestrian corridors.
While taxi operators were initially concerned over the possible loss of business, the car-free zone may actually now improve profitability. The city is developing formal taxi stations at edges of the car-free zone, and thus creating a concentration of customers for taxis. The stations substantially reduce taxi fuel costs by avoiding the need to roam the city in search of customers. Inside the car-free area, horse drawn carts carry passengers between destinations.
The city with assistance from the Human City Foundation is also now investigating the use of pedicabs in the central area.
In February, the city hosted an international seminar to review its car-free experiment. With inputs from such organizations as ITDP and the German Overseas Technical Assistance Agency (GTZ), the city is continually refining its approach. The original experiment was set to end after only a few months. However, the initiative’s success may now mean that the centre will become car-free on a permanent basis.