Hi, I am a high school student who understands all the concepts of New Urbanism and Smart Growth and I am constantly promoting it in my community.
Puerto Rico in a sense resembles New Jersey, or so I have been told specifically because it is lined with wide avenues with strip malls and gated communities and people who park on the sidewalk, amongst other things.
A little bit of history:
— The Mayagüez tram begins service in 1875.
— The San Juan tram opens in 1880 with initial track length of 12 km.
— The Ponce tram is inaugurated on the 17th of June 1880 and covered a distance of 4 km.
— In 1891, the national railway is completed.
— In 1893, public lighting becomes first arrival of electricity to Puerto Rico.
— In 1917 construction begins on PR-2, otherwise known as the "Military Road" it is a 4-lane road along most of its path and runs along the coast San Juan - Arecibo - Mayagüez - Ponce.
— The last San Juan streetcar is taken off the streets on the 30th of September 1946. There was a time in its history when the system was on par with those in New York City and Europe. The system was replaced with newer, more "modern" buses and generations of history are torn up or paved over.
© Allen Morrison
— Mayagüez and Ponce systems met similar fates years before.
— The national rail system was torn up off the Island in the 1950's. This coastal train circulated the Island and met the logistical needs of all coastal municipalities. Most of the track was recycled.
— Up until the 1950's, Puerto Rico ran mostly on hydroelectric power. Then they decided to run on [b]oil]/b]. In 1950, the first Oil Power Plant in San Juan is built.
— Within the decade, 2 more oil power plants are built. One in the northern municipality of Cataño and the other in the Southern municipality of Guayanilla.
— The Federal government proposed the construction a metro system in the 1960's to help alleviate the growing congestion problems following WWII suburbanization of PR.
— The government rejected the offer and instead used the money to build our largest tollway systems which are San Juan - Ponce (PR-52) and San Juan - Arecibo (PR-22).
— PR-52 is built from 1967-1974 and is 108 km long and runs on what used to be rail ROW.
— PR-22 began construction in 1975 and was finished in the year 2000. (?) It is 83 km long.
— In 1994, for the first time in 50 years, a politician recognizes that instead of expanding yet another 6-lane avenue into more suburbs, a metro system would do more good. And so begins the Tren Urbano.
— The Tren Urbano project is a proposal for a form of Intelligent Transportation for the metropolitan area of San Juan, an area full of suburbs. With the goal of connecting as many urban centers as possible, the team gets to work and devises an incredible plan to get San Juan organized from a car-dependent society to a walkable city. MIT helped with the technology transfer and the project qualified for the New Start grants. Many stations were designed by local architect Segundo Cardona. Each station gives back to the community by repairing local infrastructure, offering a public space where communities can gather, as cultural centers and most importantly as an alternative to the daily congestion Puerto Ricans have to put up with. Though, they dug their own grave. Maybe if they (or the government) had been more conscience.
— Tren Urbano opens service in 2004 on what has been built so far of the metro system, which is part of Phase I.
— With spacious cars (trains) and beautifully designed stations, everyone is excited. Ease of use garners ridership as SmartCards make commuting no hassle.
— Optimism and hope spread between the mayors as they all announce their intents to fund the expansions that may come after the whole system is built. Soon, the hype dies because the government has stopped construction.
It all boils down to money, political will, and how the Federal Department of Transportation works.
Out of 36 stations, only 16 stations of the Tren Urbano Project got built. What happened? Was it a success? Was it a failure?
Well, as it turns out, the government was expecting the Tren Urbano to have 100,000 riders to be deemed successful. So they allowed ridership to trickle in while they decided whether or not to keep building. The problem is that number was devised as a result of studies conducted on all 36 stations, therefore hardly achievable with 16 stations.
It's even more tragic that Phase 1 was never finished because the last two stations never built would've connected to the Minillas Government Center and there must be plenty of government employees that would like to take the train to work. Phase 2 would've connected to the airport, Phase 3 would've connected to Old San Juan, the tourist-filled historical district which is what makes San Juan the second oldest city in America, oldest in the United States and Phase 4 would've connected to the urban core of the municipality of Carolina.
The public perception is that it is an utter failure. The train doesn't go everywhere it was planned to go, so people are really disappointed. But the truth is most people don't even know there were 36 stations planned as part of the initial system (not the expansions). So they believe the government did a horrible job at planning, but there's no denying they have failed the people of Puerto Rico (again).
So, what's next?
Just want to end it with two points: is the government doing anything to progress in any way?
— The government is promoting the development of renewable energy power sources through P3s. It is very ironic that the government is also funding the conversion of all our Oil Power Plants to Coal Power Plants.
— The government has been promoting the stations much more than before as of late. For instance there were cultural activities all Christmas and "Mail your letter to Santa on the train" things. They still don't wanna build it though. Last I heard, all Phases were put on hold and they want to build a BRT system a la Bogotá. That's the kind that runs along the freeway and is really uncomfortable for the passenger... Yeah...
— The municipality of San Juan has had enough. So they're going to build a light rail at street level that will run from the Tren Urbano Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) Station to Old San Juan, in essence the same thing as the planned Phase only in form of light rail. The system will run in its own lane along Ave. Ponce de León & Ave. Fernández Juncos. The original plans called for a subway line to run under Ave. Ponce de León. Far too costly, but it's what is needed to help promote urban renewal.
I leave you with this message my friends at Cyburbia. I hope I am welcome here and will be glad to share my ideas and contribute photographs of these systems for all to see. But as an aspiring high school student, I will more importantly be listening and learning from the great big community of Cyburbia.
Oh btw, I heard about you guys in Planetizen.