Cable cars in Mexico

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Feb 222016
 

There are now at least eight cable cars (teleféricos) for tourism operating in Mexico, as well as one under construction :

  • Durango City, Durango
  • Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre), Chihuahua
  • García Caves (Grutas de García), Nuevo León
  • Zacatecas City, Zacatecas
  • Hotel Montetaxco, Taxco, Guerrero
  • Hotel Vida en el Lago, Tepecoacuilco, Guerrero
  • Orizaba, Veracruz
  • Puebla City, Puebla
  • Torreón, Coahuila (under construction)

All these cable cars are primarily designed for sightseeing and tourism, rather than as a means of regular transport for local inhabitants. In addition, there is at least one urban cable car in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area designed for mass transit:

Mexico-Cable-Cars

Durango City

The Durango teleférico, inaugurated in 2010, is 750 meters long. It links Cerro del Calvario in the historic center of the city with the viewpoint of Cerro de Los Remedios. It cost about $70 million to build and its two gondola cars can carry up to 5000 people a day. Parts of the ride are some 80 meters above the city. The system was built by a Swiss firm and is one of only a handful of cable cars that start from a historic city center anywhere in the world. (The Zacatecas City cable car is another).

Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) in the state of Chihuahua

The Copper Canyon teleférico starts alongside Divisadero railway station in Mexico’s famous Copper Canyon region, and runs 2.8 km across a section of canyon, up to 400 meters above the ground level. Inaugurated in 2010, it is the longest cable car in Mexico, cost $25 million and can carry 500 passengers an hour, using two cabins (one traveling in each direction), each able to hold 60 people. It is a 10-minute ride each way to the Mesa de Bacajipare, a viewpoint which offers a magnificent view of several canyons.

García Caves (Grutas de García) in Nuevo León

The Garcia Caves are located in the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park, 9 km from the small town of García, and about 30 km from the city of Monterrey. The caves are deep inside the imposing Cerro del Fraile, a mountain whose summit rises to an elevation of 1080 meters above sea level, more than 700 meters above the main access road. The entrance to the caves is usually accessed via a short ride on the 625-meter teleférico, which was built to replace a funicular railway.

zacatecas-teleferico

Zacatecas City

The Zacatecas teleférico, opened in 1979, is 650 meters long and links the Cerro del Grillo, near the entrance to the El Eden mine on the edge of the city’s historic center, with the Cerro de la Bufa. It carries 300,000 people a year high over the city, affording splendid views of church domes, homes, narrow streets and plazas during a trip that lasts about ten minutes. On top of Cerro de la Bufa is an equestrian statue of General Doroteo Arango (aka “Pancho” Villa), commemorating 23 June 1914, when he and his troops successfully captured the city after a nine-hour battle.

La Bufa is also the setting for a curious children’s New Year legend involving a giant cave housing a great palace with silver floors, gold walls, and lights of precious stones. This palace is inhabited by thousands of gnomes, whose job is to look after the future “New Years”. Each December the gnomes choose which “New Year” will be given to the world outside… (For the full story, see chapter 21 of my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury)

Hotel Montetaxco, in Taxco, Guerrero

This hotel teleférico is a convenient link between the hotel, set high above the city, and the downtown area of this important tourist destination, best known for its silver workshops.

Hotel Vida en el Lago, in Tepecoacuilco, Guerrero

A second hotel in Guerrero also has its own teleférico, running from the hotel to a viewpoint atop the Cerro del Titicuilchi.

Orizaba, Veracruz

Cable car in Orizaba, Mexico

A 950-meter-long cable car, using 6-person cabins (see image), began operations in the city of Orizaba in Veracruz in December 2013. The cable car goes from Pichucalco Park, next to the City Hall in downtown Orizaba, to the summit of Cerro del Borrego. which overlooks the city. The 8-minute ride affords outstanding views over the city center.

Puebla City

Initial construction of the teleférico in the city of Puebla, in central Mexico, was halted in 2013, amidst considerable controversy about its route and the demolition of a protected, historic building (the Casona de Torno) in this UNESCO World Heritage city. The original route was 2 kilometers long and linked the historic center of Puebla with a nearby hill, home to the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. In 1862, these forts were the site of the famous Battle of Puebla, at which Mexican forces proved victorious over the French, a victory celebrated each year on 5 May (Cinco de Mayo).

When it proved impossible to inaugurate this cable car in time for Mexico’s 2013 Tourist Tianguis (the largest tourism trade fair in Latin America), authorities boarded up the partially-completed structures (3 metal towers and 2 concrete bases) to completely hide them from public view. Construction resumed in 2014, but only of a 688-meter-long stretch which cost $11 million to build. This section, which includes a tower in Centro Expositor, the city’s main exhibition center, was officially opened in January 2016. The 5-minute ride costs about $30 pesos ($1.60) each way.

Torreón, Coahuila (under construction)

[September 2017] – Italian firm Leitner Ropeways has begun construction of Torreón’s cable car. (Leitner built Mexico’s first cable car for regular urban transit in Ecatepec in the State of Mexico). The Torreón cable car runs 1400 meters between Paseo Morelos in the downtown area and the Cerro de las Noas, site of the large sculpture El Cristo de las Noas, reputedly the largest statue of Christ in North America.

The system will initially have nine 8-pasenger cabins giving a capacity of about 380 passengers an hour each way. The cable car, expected to cost between $9 million and $10 million, was originally due to enter service in December 2016. It is reported to be 90% complete according to a municipal official. Users are likely to pay about 3 dollars for a round trip (about 5 minutes each way). City officials hope its completion will provide a welcome boost to Torreón’s fledgling tourism sector.

[Note: This is an updated version of a post first published in 2014]

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Nov 292015
 

Line 12 of Mexico City’s Metro (subway) system was originally opened in October 2012. The new line, also known as the Golden Line, extended the city’s metro system into several lower income areas in the south-eastern part of the city, including Tlahuac, Milpa Alta, Xochimilco and Iztapalapa.

However, in March 2014, the elevated (above ground) 14-kilometer-long (9 mi) southern section of this line between Tlahuac and Atlalilco stations was closed for emergency repairs. A replacement bus system was established between those stations. According to a report in the Mexico City daily Reforma (citing a study by ILF Consulting Engineers), the design of tracks in that section had resulted in damage to the wheels of several metro trains. It also resulted in the failure of an electric cable and caused cracks and fractures in the track supports. Authorities have blamed some former city officials, together with the line’s builders, a consortium comprised of France’s Alstom and the Mexican companies ICA and Carso.

Metro Line 12 was finally fully reopened 20 months later, on 29 November, 2015. Line 12 is the longest line in the city’s metro network,extending 25 km (15.5 miles), with 20 stations, including four transfer points. In terms of network connectivity, it added an important east-west link connecting four lines that serve the southern section of the metro area. Line 12 runs from Mixcoac (Line 7) to Tlahuac in the southeast of Mexico City, intersecting with line 3 at Zapata, line 2 at Ermita and line 8 at Atlalilco.

Mexico-City-Metro-MapOfficials estimate that the line, which has both underground and overground sections, eliminates 860 buses from the city’s congested streets, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 22,000 metric tons a year. It cost about $1.8 billion to construct.

Mexico City metroBetween 400,000 and 450,000 passengers are now expected to use Line 12 daily. It is expected to cut the average daily commuting time from those parts of the city it serves by more than an hour a day, from 150 minutes to 78 minutes. The line is only accessible by using the new metropolitan smart transport card “Tarjeta DF”.

The complete network of 12 lines comprising Mexico City’s metro system, used by more than 5 million passengers a day, now has 195 stations and a total length of about 227 km (141 miles).

Will the line eventually be extended?

In January 2013, officials of Mexico City’s Metro system (Sistema de Transporte Colectivo, STC)  announced that they were considering extending Line 12 westwards into the Álvaro Obregón district of the city. This is still being talked about. STC’s Managing Director Joel Ortega Cuevas also said that an analysis was needed of the viability of extending the Metro network to reach several major commuting routes in the State of México (see map), including Ecatepec-Coacalco-Zumpango; Chalco-Ixtapaluca; Naucalpan-Tlalnepantla-Cuautitlán; Atizapan-Naucalpan and Chimalhuacan-Nezahualcóyotl.

Spatial growth of Mexico City Metropolitan Area (based on Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

Spatial growth of Mexico City Metropolitan Area (based on Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

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The Richardson Pan-American Highway Expedition of 1941

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Oct 222015
 

It is easy to forget how rapidly transportation systems have changed since the horse and buggy days. The completion of the Mexican stretch of the Pan-American Highway (i.e. the part from the U.S. border to Guatemala) in the late 1940s was a significant turning-point in the development of Mexico’s road network. The highway made previously remote areas more accessible. It also served as a symbol of unity and Mexico’s progress into the modern era.

The official route of the Pan-American Highway through Mexico is from Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas south to Mexico City along Highway 85, and then continuing on Highway 190 to Oaxaca and the border with Guatemala. Various northern “spurs” were later added, including one from Nogales to Mexico City along highway 15, the route used by Richardson’s expedition:

Mexican section of Pan-American Highway, 1941 (from Richardson's Adventure South)

Mexican section of Pan-American Highway, 1941 (from Richardson’s Adventure South)

Prior to its completion, only a handful of intrepid souls had dared to attempt driving the entire route of the Pan-American Highway through Mexico. The most noteworthy expedition was the three-man Richardson Pan-American Highway Expedition of 1941. Amazingly, with only occasional assistance from mules, trucks, passers-by and boats, this expedition successfully drove all the way from Detroit in the U.S. to Tierra del Fuego, Chile.

The three men – christened “The Three Damn Fools” – were journalist Sullivan Richardson, Arnold Whitaker and Kenneth C. Van Hee. The car they used was a 1941 Plymouth 4 door sedan, serial No. 15031250, engine number P11-214804.

In the words of Jim Benjaminson, who (years later) helped track down the whereabouts of the car:

 “The Richardson Pan-American Highway Expedition is perhaps one of the greatest automotive stones of all time. In scope and magnitude it surpasses those pioneer automobilists that first crossed the United States at the turn of the century The Richardson Expedition crossed not only this country but encompassed the area spanning two continents-crossing trackless wilderness, endless mud, uncharted territory and obstacles of every sort that Mother Nature could throw against them.

The men of the expedition, Sullivan C. Richardson, Arnold Whitaker and Kenneth C. Van Hee were many times called “Three Damn Fools” by friends and foes alike. It is a title that was perhaps fitting, considering the almost insurmountable odds against their succeeding -but succeed they did -and now that title is worn proudly- The Richardson Pan American Highway Expedition was perhaps the last great automotive adventure undertaken on the face of this earth.”

Oaxaca section of Pan-American Highway, 1941

Oaxaca section of Pan-American Highway, 1941. (Richardson’s Adventure South)

Oaxaca section of Pan-American Highway, 1941

Oaxaca section of Pan-American Highway, 1941 (Richardson’s Adventure South)

Some idea of the difficulties they encountered can be gleaned from these photographs taken south of Oaxaca, where one 80 km (50 mile) stretch (pictured) took them 25 days to complete! Today, that same section is an hour’s drive along smooth asphalt…

The whole epic story, complete with photos, can be read online here. The story and photos originally appeared in issues #135, #136 and #137 of the Plymouth Bulletin (1982).

Sullivan C. Richardson: Adventure South (Arnold-Powers Inc., 1942).

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The spatial development of Mexico’s railway network

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Dec 202014
 

At the end of the nineteenth century, during the successive presidencies of Porfirio Díaz, railway building leapt forward. Díaz aggressively encouraged rail development through generous concessions and government subsidies to foreign investors. By 1884 Mexico had 12,000 km of track, including a US-financed link from Mexico City to the USA through Torreón, Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez. A British company had completed lines from Mexico City to Guadalajara, and from Mexico City via Monterrey to Nuevo Laredo.

Fig. 17.2 The development of Mexico's railway network

Fig. 17.2 The development of Mexico’s railway network. Copyright: Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved

By the start of the twentieth century, additional tracks connected Guadalajara, San Luis Potosí and Monterrey to the Gulf coast port of Tampico. A line connecting the Pacific and Gulf coasts was also completed. Durango was now connected to Eagle Pass on the US border. A second line to Veracruz was constructed, with a spur to Oaxaca. Laws passed in 1898 sought to bring order to the rapid and chaotic expansion of Mexico’s rail system. Foreign concessions were restricted. Subsidies were only made available for the completion of missing links such as lines to Manzanillo and the Guatemala border. Efforts were made to standardize track gauges.

After the Revolution, network improvements were hindered by poor administration, corruption, labor unions and a shift of government priority to roads. The west coast railroad from Sonora to Guadalajara was completed in 1927. The Yucatán Peninsula was joined to the national network in the 1950s and the famous Chihuahua to Los Mochis line through the Copper Canyon was completed in 1961, finally linking Texas and Mexico’s northern plateau to the Pacific Ocean.

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Dec 062014
 

In the second half of the 19th century, the Mexican government undertook am ambitious railway building program that eventually connected Mexico City with the USA, as well as with ports on the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean

Since the privatization of the railway system in 1995, many lines have fallen out of use and passenger services have been all but abandoned, leaving hundreds of kilometers of disused track and isolating some rural communities from the nearest large city. Much of Mexico’s historic railway infrastructure now lies in ruins.

In the past decade, some former railway lines have been turned into walking and cycling trails. For example:

The state of Jalisco has started to recondition 120 kilometers of former railway routes as Green Route (Via Verde) trails for non-motorized traffic (hikers, cyclists, horse riders). Many of the old stations along these routes will be restored to provide essential services and exhibition space. The former train station in Ameca (on the extreme northern edge of the town) has been renovated to serve as the start of one of these routes, with exhibits focusing on the history of the railroad, local fiestas and the region’s haciendas. The lovely building, dating back more than a century, witnessed its last train in 1995.

Given that the railways played such a key role in the Revolution, enabling both sides to move troops quickly around the country, it is fitting that they are now the basis for this new revolution involving cultural tourism. (Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury, p 61).

Others lines, elsewhere in Mexico, have been explored by two intrepid Mexican artists as part of an unusual geo-art project. Artists Ivan Puig and Andres Padilla Domene built a vehicle capable of traveling on train tracks and explored some of the country’s abandoned railway lines. As they went, they photographed hundreds of ruins and recorded hours of interviews with people they met. They later did something similar in Ecuador, but that’s another story.

Their striking silver road-rail vehicle is known as SEFT-1, where SEFT stands for Sonda de Exploración Ferroviaria Tripulada (Manned Railway Exploration Probe).

seft-1

The artists recorded their experiences in videos, photographs and collected objects. Interviewing people they met, often from communities isolated by Mexico’s passenger railway closures, they shared their findings online, where audiences could track the probe’s trajectory, view maps and images and listen to interviews.

Their first London (UK) exhibition, SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe – Modern Ruins 1:220, was commissioned by The Arts Catalyst and presented at the Furtherfield gallery space in the heart of Finsbury Park. In the exhibit, the artists explore how the ideology of progress is imprinted onto historic landscapes and they also reflect on the two poles of the social experience of technology: use and obsolescence.

For this exhibition, the artists also invited British expert model railway constructors to create scale reproductions of specific Mexican railway ruins exactly as they had found them. One gallery became a space for the process of model ruin construction. The room’s walls displayed the pictures, documents, plans and other materials used as reference for the meticulously-elaborated models.

The Artists

Ivan Puig (born 1977, Guadalajara) has exhibited internationally in Mexico, Germany, Canada, Brazil and the USA. Puig, a member of the collective TRiodO (with Marcela Armas and Gilberto Esparza), lives and works in Mexico City.

Andrés Padilla Domene (born 1986, Guadalajara) has exhibited work in Mexico, the USA and Ecuador. His video work as director and producer with Camper Media includes documentaries, fiction films and TV shows.

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Mexico’s golden age of railways

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Nov 302014
 

Early concessions (the first was in 1837) came to nothing. By 1860 Mexico had less than 250 km of short disconnected railroad lines and was falling way behind its northern neighbor, the USA, which already had almost 50,000 km. Political, administrative and financial issues, coupled with Mexico’s rugged topography, also prevented Mexico from keeping up with other Latin American nations. Mexico City was finally linked by rail to Puebla in 1866 and Veracruz in 1873.

In deciding the best route for the Veracruz-Mexico City line, Arthur Wellington, an American engineer, developed the concepts which later became known as positive and negative deviation. At first glance, it might be assumed that the optimum route for a railway is the shortest distance between points, provided that the maximum possible grade is never exceeded. Negative deviations lengthen this minimum distance in order to avoid obstacles such as the volcanic mountains east of Mexico City: the Veracruz line skirts the twin volcanic peaks of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl before entering Mexico City from the north-east. Positive deviations lengthen the minimum distance in order to gain more traffic.

Detail of lithograph by Casimiro Castro of Railway near Orizaba, Veracruz

Detail of lithograph by Casimiro Castro of Railway near Orizaba, Veracruz

At the end of the nineteenth century, during the successive presidencies of Porfirio Díaz, railway building leapt forward. Díaz aggressively encouraged rail development through generous concessions and government subsidies to foreign investors. By 1884 Mexico had 12,000 km of track, including a US-financed link from Mexico City to the USA through Torreón, Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez. A British company had completed lines from Mexico City to Guadalajara, and from Mexico City via Monterrey to Nuevo Laredo.

Different gauge tracks typified a system based on numerous concessions but no overall national plan. By the turn of the century, additional tracks connected Guadalajara, San Luis Potosí and Monterrey to the Gulf coast port of Tampico. A line connecting the Pacific and Gulf coasts was also completed. Durango was now connected to Eagle Pass on the US border. A second line to Veracruz was constructed, with a spur to Oaxaca. Laws passed in 1898 sought to bring order to the rapid and chaotic expansion of Mexico’s rail system. Foreign concessions were restricted. Subsidies were only made available for the completion of missing links such as lines to Manzanillo and the Guatemala border. Efforts were made to standardize track gauges.

However, the country’s 24,000 km railroad network still had serious deficiencies. There were only three effective connections from the central plateau to the coasts. There were no links from central Mexico to either the Yucatán Peninsula or to the northwestern states of Nayarit, Sinaloa, Sonora and Baja California. The only efficient way to move inland freight from Chihuahua, Torreón, Durango or Ciudad Juárez to the Pacific was either north through the USA or all the way south and through Guadalajara to Manzanillo. The Sonora railroad linked Guaymas and Hermosillo to the USA, but not to the rest of Mexico.

Despite their weaknesses, railroads revolutionized Mexico. The railroads had average speeds of about 40 kph (25 mph) and ran through the night. They were five to ten times faster than pre-railroad transport. They lowered freight costs by roughly 80%. They shrank the size of Mexico in terms of travel time by a factor of between five and ten. They were also much cheaper and far more comfortable than stagecoaches. The estimated savings from railroad services in 1910 amounted to over 10% of the country’s gross national product. Between 1890 and 1910, the construction and use of railroads accounted for an estimated half of the growth in Mexico’s income per person. In addition, the railroads carried mail, greatly reducing the time needed for this form of communication. Clearly, the benefits of railroads far outweighed their costs.

Foreign companies gained mightily from their investments building railroads, which were almost entirely dependent on imported locomotives, rolling stock, technical expertise, and even fuel. But Mexicans also benefited enormously; in the early 1900s over half of the rail cargo supplied local markets and industries. The railroads thrust much of Mexico into the 20th century.

Cities with favorable rail connections grew significantly during the railroad era while those poorly served were at a severe disadvantage. The speed and economies of scale of shipping by rail encouraged mass production for national markets. For example, cotton growing expanded rapidly on irrigated farms near Torreón because the crop could be shipped easily and cheaply to large textile factories in Guadalajara, Puebla and Orizaba. Manufactured textiles were then distributed cheaply by rail to national markets. Elsewhere, the railroads enabled large iron and steel, chemical, cement, paper, shoe, beer and cigarette factories to supply the national market.

On the other hand, most Mexicans still lived far from railroad lines and relied on foot or mule transport while practicing subsistence agriculture. In addition, the cost of rail tickets was prohibitively expensive for many Mexicans; paying for a 70 km (43 mi) trip required a week’s pay for those on the minimum wage. The railroads greatly expanded the gap between the ‘have’ and the ‘have not’ areas of the country. Almost all the Pacific coast and most of southern Mexico did not benefit from the railroads. Such growing inequalities contributed to the Mexican Revolution.

After the Revolution, network improvements were hindered by poor administration, corruption, labor unions and a shift of government priority to roads. The west coast railroad from Sonora to Guadalajara was completed in 1927. The Yucatán Peninsula was joined to the national network in the 1950s and the famous Chihuahua to Los Mochis line through the Copper Canyon was completed in 1961, finally linking Texas and Mexico’s northern plateau to the Pacific Ocean.

In the second half of the 20th century, the rapidly improving road network and competition from private autos, buses and, later, airplanes caused railroad traffic to decline significantly. Freight traffic on the nationalized railroad maintained a competitive advantage for some heavy shipments that were not time sensitive, but for other shipments trucks became the preferred mode of transport. The current system, with its roughly 21,000 km of track, is far less important to Mexico’s economy than it was a century ago.

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Aug 112014
 

Earlier this year, a slew of press reports discussed the possibility of a Mexico-USA high speed rail link from the industrial powerhouse of Monterrey in Nuevo León state to San Antonio in Texas. (For one example, see Fast train to Monterrey on the horizon).

The reports say that Mexican transport officials and their U.S. counterparts believe that this international high speed rail link could be in operation within a decade. The new line would move passengers between the two cities in about two hours, saving almost three hours compared to highway travel.

Route of proposed high speed train from Monterrey to San Antonio. Credit: Daily Mail.

Route of proposed high speed train from Monterrey to San Antonio. Credit: Daily Mail.

A key part of the plan would be a system to pre-clear U.S. Customs which sometimes delays northbound motorists at border crossings for several hours. (Such a pre-clearance system would be analogous to that already operating in several Canadian airports, where U.S.-bound passengers clear U.S. immigration and customs prior to boarding their flights).

Mexican officials have already secured the rights of way for the rail line from Monterrey to the U.S. border and say that this section of the line, likely to cost around 1.5 billion dollars, could be up and running as early as 2018. The U.S. section, from the border northwards, is unlikely to be completed before 2022 at the earliest, though a $5.6 million study of potential high-speed rail lines stretching from Laredo to Oklahoma City is already underway.

The first high speed rail links in North America are likely to be in Mexico, where planning is well advanced and the first construction contracts are being awarded for building high speed links from Mexico City to Toluca and Querétaro. Plans for a high speed train in the Yucatán Peninsula have also been announced.

For more details of the Mexico City-Toluca high speed rail project, see Plans to improve the Mexico City-Toluca transport corridor.

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Road collapse in Baja California in December 2013 increases trucking costs

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Mar 292014
 

The adverse effects of the dramatic collapse in December 2013 of a 300-meter section of the Tijuana-Ensenada coastal highway are likely to be felt for at least six months and probably longer. The extent of the problem is clear from the images in the news reports from the time:

tijuana-ensenada road collapseThe collapse took place about 95 km (60 mi) south of the border, and closed the scenic coastal highway near the San Miguel toll booth. It is still unclear whether or not an attempt will be made to rebuild the coastal highway, or whether a new highway, or new sections of highway, will be built further inland.

In the interim, passenger vehicles and light trucks are using the old two-lane road between Tijuana and Ensenada, while heavy goods vehicles are being rerouted via Tecate, adding at least 30% to their costs, according to Mexican National Confederation of Transporters (MNCT).

The MNCT says that 300 trucks a day travel between Tijuana and Ensenada and that the rerouting adds at least  80 km (50 mi) to each trip, with corresponding expenses in gasoline, driver salaries and vehicle maintenance. It also almost doubles the time required. A spokesperson for the MNCT has called for authorities to allow heavy trucks to use the more direct non-toll route (Highway 1). However, the increased traffic on the old road is already leading to backups and an increase in minor accidents, so it is unlikely that authorities will allow any larger trucks to use that route.

It is too early to say how serious the effects will be on Ensenada’s economy. The city has Mexico’s third busiest cruise ship terminal and is the main gateway for travel further south along the Baja California Peninsula.

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Mexico City’s Ecobici cycle rental system enters its fifth year

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Feb 202014
 

Mexico City’s Ecobici system for public bike rentals in and around the city’s historical center celebrated its fourth birthday in February 2014. The system, established in 2010, currently has more than 60,000 24,000 registered users; between them they have already surpassed 13.5 million short trips by Ecobici. City officials calculate that the system has saved 499 metric tons of CO2 since 2010.

Ecobici bike rack
Annual membership currently costs 400 pesos (about 31 dollars). It is also possible to buy membership for a single day (90 pesos), three days or by the week. The system is intended for short trips. With membership, the first 45 minutes of each ride is free.

There are 275 Ecobici cycle stations and 4,000 Ecobici bikes in circulation. The current level of usage is 25,000 trips each day. The average trip distance per ride is 8 kilometers (5 miles), the average trip time is 20-25 minutes; 80% of users are male, and the average ride saves 7.5 kg of atmospheric emissions. Four out of five riders start or end their trip with a ride by bus, taxi, car or metro. City authorities intend to add Ecobici to the Tarjeta Ciudad travel card that can be used to pay for other forms of city transport including the Metro and Metrobús networks.

Is there a down side?

Criticisms of Ecobici have been relatively minor. Initially, some riders complained that the cycle racks were sometimes completely full, meaning they had to cycle to an alternative cycle station where there was space to leave their bike, or that a cycle rack had no bikes to rent, in which case they had the inconvenience of finding another cycle station that did have bikes. Ecobici’s organizers regarded these issues as normal “teething problems” for any system of this scale, and this sort of complaint is now unusual. Authorities hope to implement a system at some point in the future which allows users to receive, via cell phone, real-time information about where bikes are available.

Other road users have complained that some of the Ecobici riders ignore traffic rules by, for example, cycling the wrong way down one-way streets, increasing the chance of an accident.

Area served by the Ecobici system

The 21 square kilometer area served by Ecobici includes the Historic Center of Mexico City and the following neighborhoods (colonias) in the Miguel Hidalgo and Cuauhtémoc districts (delegaciones):

  • Anzures
  • Condesa
  • Cuauhtémoc
  • Escandón
  • Guerrero
  • Juárez (including theZona Rosa)
  • Polanco
  • Roma Norte
  • Roma Sur
  • San Miguel Chapultepec
  • San Rafael
  • Tabacalera

Expansion plans

The city government is now expanding the system by 14 square kilometers into the Benito Juárez district, where 171 new bike stations will be located in 22 neighborhoods, including Del Valle and Narvarte. The new cycle stations being installed allow allow casual users and tourists to pay for each individual trip by credit card.

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Nov 062013
 

Mexico City and its surrounding areas have a strict “Hoy no circula” (“Today you can’t drive” or “Day without a Car”) program. The program is intended to reduce air pollution from vehicle emissions.

Day without a car table

The graphic shows the major rules for most vehicles. With few exceptions, these rules apply to all tourist vehicles as well as Mexican-plated vehicles.

Click here for a Wikipedia article with more details of the rules, including Saturday rules and exceptions

Area subject to “Day without a Car” rules, November-2013. All rights reserved.

As of November 2013, the “Hoy no circula” program applies to the Federal District and the following 18 adjoining municipalities in the State of Mexico (see map):

  • Atizapán de Zaragoza
  • Coacalco de Berriozabal
  • Cuautitlán
  • Cuautitlán Izcalli
  • Chalco
  • Chimalhuacan
  • Chicoloapan
  • Ecatepec de Morelos
  • Huixquilucan
  • Ixtapaluca
  • La Paz
  • Naucalpan de Juárez
  • Nezahualcóyotl
  • Nicolás Romero
  • Tecámac
  • Tlalnepantla de Baz
  • Tultitlán
  • Valle de Chalco Solidaridad

No responsibility or liability is assumed for any situation arising from the information contained within this post, which is believed to be accurate at the time of writing. For more details about the growth of Mexico City, and its urban issues and management strategies, consider buying a copy of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, available from all good bookstores, as well as via amazon.com or this webpage.