The department of Antioquia’s capital city was the first in the world to implement an aerial cable car system for mass transit purposes.
The history of violence in the districts of Medellín has transformed into a present filled with hope.
The reason travels on a transportation system interconnected with urban planning projects and public policies focused on education and security.
In August, the Metrocable aerial cable car system, which is integrated into the city’s Metro subway system and transports about 670,000 users a day, will commemorate its first decade of effectively integrating the remote areas of Medellín.
On Aug. 7, 2004, the two-kilometer northeastern line of the Metrocable system, known as Línea K, became operational, followed by Línea J and Línea L years later. In total, the system covers 9.5 kilometers, and a ride costs between $200 and $500 Colombian pesos (US$0.10 and US$0.25).
The cable cars, which can transport a total of 10 people, arrive every 12 seconds, ensuring the system doesn’t become congested.
As a result of investments totaling $68.350 billion Colombian pesos (US$33.4 million), Metrocable not only facilitates the transportation of residents from the more remote areas of Medellín, it also serves as a catalyst for development, according to Juliana Correa, a spokesperson for Empresa de Transporte Masivo Metro de Medellín Ltda., which operates the system.
“The Metrocable project drove the city to develop a Comprehensive Urban Project (PUI), which included the development of schools, health clinics and business centers that have benefited area residents in recent years,” she said.
From cradle of crime to cultural icon
The Metrocable system has contributed to a 66% reduction in the murder rate in the city’s at-risk areas, according to a study by the U.S.-based Columbia University and Colombia’s University of Antioquia (Colombia), published in 2012 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
In the area of influence of Metrocable’s Línea K, which crosses Districts 1 and 2, the homicide rate went from 188 per 100,000 residents in 2003, to 30 per 100,000 residents in 2008, according to the report.
Among the factors that contributed to improving the quality of life, the study highlighted interventions such as the construction of small plazas, public lighting and the widening of sidewalks carried out by Empresa de Transporte.
Factors such as the mental health of the population in the area, the number of new businesses and the level of trust in the justice system experienced notable improvements.
“This shows the importance of accompanying major infrastructure projects with social interventions before, during and after the construction phase,” said Alexandra Restrepo, who served as one of the researchers for the study. “It’s been shown that factors such as the connections between the community and the mechanisms of social control play a role in decreasing the levels of violence and the overall mental health of the population.”
Gabriel Hernández, a 53-year-old welder and resident of the Santo Domingo neighborhood in District 1, mentioned the changes the Metrocable system brought to an area where robberies, murders, drug dealing and wars between gangs were once common.
“I’ve lived here since I was 5 and there’s been a very big impact. The neighborhood has changed 100%,” he said.
At the top of District 1, at Santo Domingo station, Biblioteca España was built between 2006 and 2007. It was designed by architect Giancarlo Mazzanti and takes its name from the contribution the Spanish government made to the cultural center.
Biblioteca España, which won recognition at the 6th Lisbon Biennial of Ibero-American Architecture and Urbanism, can be seen from almost any point in Medellín, becoming a city icon.
Hernández added that Biblioteca España has become a meeting point for young people from the area, where it’s possible for them to find more than just books and an Internet connection. They can also find help with their homework, as well as a play-oriented learning space and workshops to pass their free time in a healthy manner.
“Knowing that you belong to one of the most innovative cities in the world is a source of pride,” he said.
The tour packages offered in Medellín include a Metrocable tour that allows visitors to enjoy the city’s best views.
With a single ticket, visitors can take the Metro subway system to the Metrocable system, which takes them to Biblioteca España. From there, they can visit the Arví Ecotourism Park, which covers 16,000 hectares, 1,760 of which are natural forests.
German national Klaus Rotan, who works as an intermediary between students and teachers from Colombia and Germany to facilitate student exchanges, also highlights the safety of the mass transit system and the surrounding areas.
“Ten years ago, when I came here for the first time, I was told to stay out of the districts because they were some of the most dangerous places in the world,” he said. “Now, they seem very safe.”
At other points across the city, such as in District 13, open-air escalators have been installed, facilitating access by residents and authorities in an area known for its high levels of violence – 119.2 homicides per 100,000 residents – according to a report presented in 2012 by the municipal ombudsman.
However, since the launch of the escalators, which replaced 350 steps, there has been an increased police presence.
“I can leave my house in peace and return with a level of safety that didn’t exist before,” said María Restrepo, a 40-year-old business owner who lives in San Javier. “I save almost an hour a day with these escalators.”
The positive impact of the Metrocable has encouraged cities in Panama, Puerto Rico, Peru and Colombia to implement similar systems. In 2011, the Complexo do Alemão favela in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro introduced a similar service.
For 2014, the company behind Metrocable expects to complete the “Avenida Ayacucho Green Corridor” project, consisting of an electric trolley and two complementary cable cars in the west-central portion of Medellín. The project will benefit about 90,000 residents daily.
Through an agreement signed in 2011 by the city of Medellín and the French Development Agency (AFD), a US$250 million line of credit was provided for the restoration of the old trolley line that used to operate in Medellín from 1925 to 1951.
The company’s guidelines specify that one of the objectives of the trolley line or light rail train system is to connect the city with the José María Córdova International Airport, which handles about six million passengers annually and is in the municipality of Rionegro.