Medellín Metrocable improves mobility for residents of informal settlements
Medellín’s Metrocable is the centerpiece of an inclusive urban upgrading strategy that has improved mobility and economic opportunity, while reducing violence in disadvantaged areas. Photo by Gabinete/Flickr.

Medellín’s Metrocable is the centerpiece of an inclusive urban upgrading strategy that has improved mobility and economic opportunity, while reducing violence in disadvantaged areas. Photo by Gabinete/Flickr.

In 2004, Medellín – the second largest city in Colombia – introduced the Medellín Metrocable system to connect low-income residents to public transport. As the world’s first modern urban aerial cable car transport system, this innovative addition to Medellín’s existing metro system was built in response to significant spatial inequalities in metro access. Metrocable was designed to improve transport and quality of life in informal settlements located on the mountainside, home to some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities. The system currently consists of three lines, the first of which carries approximately 30,000 passengers per day. A recent study further speaks to the system’s success, finding that the Metrocable dramatically improves accessibility to metro stops and employment opportunities for some low-income residents. This attention to the city’s underserved communities reflects Medellín’s increased commitment to improving equity and quality of life while reducing emissions through sustainable mobility.

Equity at the core of Medellín’s development strategy

Before the Metrocable was built, the only options for residents to descend from the hilly informal settlements were infrequent, unreliable buses or journeying on foot, which could take multiple hours. The implementation of the Metrocable improved “access to activities” for the low-income population, and confirms the importance of improving mobility as a facet of expanding equity in cities. For example, the previously mentioned study found that by increasing access to high-employment areas, the Metrocable doubled the number of opportunities available to the low-income residents that participated in the study.

The Metrocable was the focal point of a broad neighborhood upgrading effort focused on the city’s poorest and most violent areas. This effort included support for social housing, schools, micro-enterprise, and implementation of additional lighting in public spaces, pedestrian bridges and street paths. Medellín used an inclusive approach to neighborhood upgrading. The urban interventions featured the use of local labor and included participatory budgeting, allowing local communities to collectively determine how to use 5% of the municipal budget designated for investment in these areas.

The Metrocable, in conjunction with these efforts, helped reduce violence in these neighborhoods. In 2002, Medellín’s homicide rate was 185 per 100,000 people. For comparison, the highest homicide rate in the United States in 2002 was New Orleans, Louisiana with 53 per 100,000 people. Violence has been even more pronounced in the hilly informal settlements where the interventions were focused. After the Metrocable and other neighborhood upgrading efforts were implemented, however, violence in these neighborhoods dropped 66% more than in neighborhoods that did not receive interventions. Medellín’s experience shows how increasing transport opportunities, improving social services, and fostering transit-oriented development (TOD) can improve quality of life in low-income neighborhoods.

Medellín’s Metrocable is one reason why it was selected as a winner of the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award. In selecting Medellín, Sustainable Transport Judge and Director of EMBARQ Holger Dalkmann said the following:

Medellin pioneered the use of cable cars as a transit alternative in low-income informal settlements in hilly areas, moving 3,000 passengers per hour per direction. The city transformed violence and despair into hope and opportunity, using sustainable transport as one of the key levers to drive change.”

A leader in equitable sustainable mobility

In addition to constructing the Metrocable, Medellín has taken a number of other actions to provide sustainable mobility for all residents. The city was selected as a winner of the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award based on a long list of initiatives. These include its bus rapid transit (BRT) system Metroplús, its metro system, its public bicycle program EnCicla, its focus on improving promenades and other public spaces, its ridesharing program Comparte tu carro, as well as vehicle exhaust emissions controls.

What can cities learn from Medellín? Among other lessons, the Metrocable shows the viability of aerial cable-car systems as a means of sustainable transport. Though their capcity is more limited than other transport modes, aerial cable-car systems are relatively cheap and quick to construct. They require little land and use proven technology, and can be an effective means of transport to areas that are difficult to access. The first Metrocable line only cost US $ 24 million. Other cities are already taking Medellín’s example. Caracas and Rio de Janeiro now use aerial cable cars to provide transport access to informal settlements. Through all its efforts, Medellín demonstrates that social equity and sustainable transport go hand in hand.

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