Over the summer I had the opportunity to visit Arequipa, Peru’s southern-most major city, and see first hand all the work that the city and regional governments have done to make the city more pedestrian friendly. So far, Arequipa has completed one major project, the pedestrianization of Mercaderes, the main commercial drag in the heart of the city. This street was once jam packed with cars, many of which were old and belched out dirty fumes that darkened the air.
Now, the street is remarkably clean and quiet. It’s a pleasant place to stroll, go shopping, and people watch. I talked with a few pedestrians and merchants whose stores lined the street and they all agreed that Mercaderes was much improved without the car traffic. Some even suggested that more streets in the city should ban cars and become more like Mercaderes.
In fact, the city is planning to do exactly that. Its goal is to connect several of the more important streets in the city’s historic downtown, a UNESCO world heritage site, by making them pedestrian only. It also plans to replace the city’s chaotic transit system of small vans and buses with a bus rapid transit system that has fixed stops and bus-exclusive lanes. If the transit project goes through, it will be a boon for city residents and will dramatically improve the quality of life for people who live in Arequipa.