April 25, 2013

Riding Your Bicycle in Cuenca Can Be Dangerous


A friend's brother lies in the Cuenca hospital in a coma. Last week he was riding his bicycle on a side road from Gran Columbia by the Latin Clinic and was hit by a taxi driver. Pablo was thrown 20 feet off of his bicycle and is in very critical condition with a cracked cranial. The doctor has told the family he is in God’s hands at this point.

We’ve touched on this issue briefly in another article on the blog and we feel this issue is very important. We have readers write in occasionally wondering about bicycle sales in Cuenca and how safe it is to ride a bicycle here. To put it bluntly Cuenca is NOT a bicycle friendly city and we would not advise riding on the city streets on a bicycle anywhere in Cuenca. Trying to cross the street by walking in some areas of Cuenca is also risky! Pedestrians need to be careful.

Bicycling in Cuenca

A friend informed us that once in awhile on the weekend the city will shut down Avenue 12 de Abril just so bicyclists can ride their bikes, but then you are on their schedule instead of your own, which makes it cumbersome to say the least. We also see bicyclists on the walking trails along the river but the problem with that is if everyone starts riding their bike on the river trails there will not be any room for walkers and joggers. And the river paths get pretty packed on the weekends.

Drivers in Cuenca think they Own the Road

We often comment to each other how laid back Ecuadorians are in everything, except when they are behind the wheel of an automobile. Ecuadorians are like different people when they’re driving. The streets in Ecuador would be complete and utter chaos if they discontinued the manufacturing of car horns! In Ecuador they drive with their car horns instead of by driving laws. Or so it seems.

Five out of five drivers in Cuenca drive unpredictably and four out of five drivers drive radically. It is not uncommon to see drivers run red lights; swerve into another lane without using blinkers; and almost hitting pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles on the road. We’re sure that brake jobs are big business here because of all the pressing on the brakes the drivers do. And surprisingly, four out five Ecuadorian drivers wear a seat belt even though wearing of seat belts is NOT enforced here! We have had Ecuadorian drivers tell us to put our seat belt on when we’re in the car with them!

Lanes do not mean anything to drivers in Cuenca. You’ll see three and four cars all lined up in two lanes. Motorcyclists wriggle their way in between crammed cars and miraculously they honk their way out of hitting one another. It seems chaotic to witness when you first move here, and you would think there would be more wrecks and fender benders than there is. Traffic miraculously flows quite smoothly in spite of appearances.

We’ve ridden in city buses where the bus sideswiped a motorcyclist and in another bus when it rear-ended the car in front of him only because both drivers were not being watchful. In downtown area where there are no lights to speak of, when cars and taxi drivers come to an intersection they honk at each other and whoever gets to the intersection first gets to go. Forget about stop signs, seldom to drivers stop at stop signs.

Driving Laws Are Not Really Enforced

The crazy thing is, for Ecuadorian drivers this is all normal. Laws are not really enforced, although they are trying to enforce the speeding law in certain areas of Cuenca today…we still witness speeders and erratic drivers, even around police.

Legally speaking, pedestrians do have the right of way in Ecuador, but try and tell the drivers that. We have the Ecuador driver’s manual which is comparable to the one in the US, with all of the same laws of the road and yet, most drivers in Ecuador are not obeying the driving laws. Then people get run down and thrown from their bicycles like what happened to Pablo.

FYI, the taxi driver who hit our friend’s brother abandoned the scene after he hit Pablo, and the family will never know him, nor will he have to take the responsibility for what he has done…and he’ll probably keep driving like a mad-man in Cuenca Ecuador. Some drivers should not be allowed behind the wheel of an automobile.

We’re just letting you know that as tempting as the thought of riding a bicycle in Cuenca Ecuador is, due to the year round mild weather: riding a bicycle on the streets in Cuenca is not a very good idea, unless you are on an actual riding path for bikes or the streets are blocked off for bicyclists.

Update 1: A few days ago we were informed that the patient is out of a coma after 18 days, but still in critical condition. It remains to be seen what kind of head trauma this young man has received.

Update 2: In April 2013 the city of Cuenca hired on 110 new traffic police. Perhaps with the new units in force, traffic may begin to improve. Time will tell.

Update 3: November 2014 - Is traffic better in Cuenca? Unfortunately, it is not; pedestrians still need to be very careful, as do people on bikes and motorcycles. I think the traffic police are enforcing the speeding laws more, however, pedestrians still are honked at and basically have no walking rights anywhere in Cuenca. 

6 comments:

  1. Thank You Angie for this well written article. It curbed my impulse to buy a bike for Cuenca touring. CU and Frank soon. DocStJohn@esedona.net

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    1. Walking can be dangerous too, as recent deaths reported in the newspapers show. I suggest you always take a taxi everywhere.

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  2. By law do you have to wear a helmet?

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  3. Hi Rosemary, Ecuador recently passed law of needing a helmet when riding a motorcycle, but we're not 100% sure about bicycles. we see people without them. However, if riding in the streets it would be a recommended thing to do. A lot of people ride their bikes on the designated bike paths and walking paths..

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  4. You'd be "estupido" NOT to wear a helmet! Hey! But, it's your eggshell!

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  5. This blog comes up as a top result when searching about bicycles in Cuenca and I just wanted to say that there are stretches that are quite nice now. The Tomebomba and Yanuncay trail networks are fantastic, and easily ridable with medium or fat tires. Additionally Ave Solano heading South out of the city from the Tomebomba has a bike lane all the way to the Yanuncay river, while Ave Loja has a bikelane from the Tomebomba about halfway to the Yanuncay. Those are all fully separated, so they are safe for normal folks. For experienced cyclists (someone that may have raced bicycles, for instance) - I find all the roads South of the Tomebomba to be fine, but I wouldn't ride in the Centro. Cheers!

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