Photo: Las Independencias Escalator in Medellin
Las Independencias I, a poor neighborhood of 12,000 residents on the western mountainside of the Colombian city of Medellin, is the world’s first urban district installed with outdoor transport escalators to solve the problem of people getting up and down steep terrain.
The escalators in six double up-and-down segments have replaced the 350 cement steps that many Las Independencias I residents had to climb as part of their daily routine.
The escalators, a project dubbed Independencias I Connection Pathways, were inaugurated Tuesday by Medellin Mayor Alonso Salazar and the Urban Development Company, or EDU, that tackled the joint initiative four years ago.
“We suggested the escalators as a possible transit solution that would enable people on the mountainsides to get around more easily,” EDU interim chief Luz Adriana Campuzano told Efe.
In Las Independencias I, which is one of the 20 neighborhoods in Medellin’s problematic Comuna 13 district, there are pathetic cases of residents confined to their homes by old age or disabilities.
Some people “couldn’t ever leave their houses because quite simply they had no way to do so,” Campuzano said.
Now they can thanks to Independencias I Connection Pathways, a route of escalators 130 meters (426 feet) long, from the foot of the mountain on which the neighborhood sprang up 30 years ago, to the highest point on the peak.
The project, with a cost of 10 billion pesos (about $5.2 million), involved the Japanese company Fujitec, which designed the escalators and manufactured them at its plant in China, along with Conservicios, a local firm responsible for importing and installing the parts.
Fujitec made the basic elements of stainless steel, used smelted aluminum for the steps and a synthetic resin for the entry platforms, in order to meet the highest standards of quality.
It’s a “transit solution that will give residents a better quality of life,” Campuzano said.
EDU is a decentralized industrial and commercial organization of the municipality of Medellin, the provincial capital of Antioquia and the second most important city in Colombia.
The escalators are not the first in the world to be installed outdoors, since there are several for purposes of tourism, but this is a first for urban transport.
The official also said that Connection Pathways were conceived as an urban landmark that will help Medellin residents see Comuna 13 in a new way and not as just a dangerous haunt for crime gangs.
Comuna 13 is one of the 15 “comunas,” or districts, that make up the industrial city of Medellin with its more than 2.36 million inhabitants, which has taken the lead in Colombia in urban transport solutions, beginning in the 1990s with a metropolitan train and subsequently with the cable-car project known as Metrocables, which also serves poor mountainside areas.
The line of escalators is the latest chapter in this story of progress, and will not only transport other Comuna 13 inhabitants, who number 130,000 or 5.7 percent of the entire city, but is available to all Medellin inhabitants and tourists as well.
The work as a whole includes 1,102 sq. meters (11,846 sq. feet) of public spaces, 343 meters (1,125 feet) of pedestrian walks, two public buildings - one of them with a terrace overlooking the city - plus benches and other urban furnishings.