A Call For A Historical Pedestrian Bocas Town Center 

The automobile is not synonymous with progress. Bicycle transportation is more than a leisure activity. There are touristic, commercial, cultural, historical, environmental and health benefits to a pedestrian downtown area. Leaders of the community have made compelling arguments and alternative proposals for redesign of Calle Tercera, the main street on Isla Colón. 

Third street, Isla Colon, in the early 1900’s. Photo courtesy of “Isla Colon – Raices y Viviencias – Bocas del Toro” on Facebook.

 

Plans for a major renovation and redesign to the streets of Bocas del Toro archepielago’s main island were announced on January 22nd, 2021. It was a public hearing presented by the Proyeco-Ingeotec consultation committee, in association with the corresponding authorities, and the format has allowed for consultations from the community before the final project plans will be approved.

“More than demonstrating the project, it was about enriching the project and obviously implementing many of the ideas that the residents have contributed to us today,” said Ministry of Public Rafael Sabonge in an interview with Bocas TV News moments after the public hearing.

 

Minister of Public Works, Rafael Sabonge, is pictured in the center, speaking. Picture courtesy of Bocas TV.

 

On the morning of the presentation, a note was published on the Facebook page Isla Colón – Raices y Vivencias – Bocas del Toro titled “5 Reasons Third Street Should Be Pedestrian.” Their points for a pedestrian downtown area are summarized here:

    1. Historically the street has been a pedestrian dominated area since its original conception in 1907; a wide boulevard with ornamental plants flanking each side. According to a municipal decree in 2006, there is commitment by the local government to maintain the historical aesthetic of the downtown area, which includes Calle Tercera.
    2. The flat topography of the area lends itself to walking and cycling with ease and automobiles have never been the main method of transportation in Bocas Town.
    3. The principle industry of the islands of Bocas del Toro is tourism. A pedestrian 3rd street lends itself to a visitors to be able to enjoy a pleasant stroll in the downtown area, enhancing the tourist’s experience and concentrating commercial traffic in an area (an urban design strategy proven successful increase sales).
    4. Bocas del Toro has the opportunity to be at the forefront of the environmental and sustainability movement by reducing its carbon footprint and improving its air quality by limiting the use of motor vehicles in town center.
    5. Walking is healthy and it should be the public policy of elected officials to promote physical activity for the benefit of its inhabitants.

 

 

The ideas of the Isla Colón Raices y Vivencias group really resonated with the community, with other residents much in agreement with the notion that there are many benefits to a pedestrian focused downtown area. Bocas del Toro-native and Panamanian professionals, business owners and history enthusiasts who are also leaders in the community joined together to compare ideas. The group was able to develop two alternative designs, which they attached to this letter that was sent to the Minister of Public Works (images of the designs are found below the letter “annex 3” and “annex 4”):

Panama January 25, 2021
Mr. Rafael José Sabonge Villar
Minister of Public Works
Via email

PUBLIC CONSULTATION URBAN STREET DESIGN OF ISLA COLÓN AND
OTHERS.

Respected Mr. Minister:

The undersigned, members of the business community, professionals and people related to the province of Bocas del Toro, we kindly present our observations within the public consultation process, advanced by the institution in charge of the urban design of Calle Tercera, Isla Colón.

We must note that the urban center of Isla Colón, including its Third Street, was declared by the Municipal Council of Bocas del Toro “Conservation Area Historica ”, through Agreement No. 53 of August 31, 2006. In this regard, we consider that the design of the aforementioned road must incorporate, in some way, an allusion to its original layout, which was inaugurated around 1907.

Historically the wide avenue of 25 had two rows of bushes that went down the whole avenue from start to finish and demarcated a pedestrian boulevard of white gravel and acetylene street lamps. (Annexes 1,2). As such, we propose a design that rescues this configuration, laying the foundations for the recovery of the landscaping and architecture of the Casco Viejo (or “Old Quarters”) of Isla Colón.

The undersigned would like to provide you with two alternative designs to the one presented by the firm PROYECO, during the public consultation held on Friday, January 22 at the Republic of Nicaragua school. Option A (Annex 3) maintains two lanes of circulation, outside the boulevard, one of which can be made pedestrian during the nights and festive seasons; while option B (Annex 4) maintains the boulevard, including a single lane for motor vehicles. Both solutions guarantee the creation of a public space dedicated to pedestrians and an exclusive transit element for the cyclist.

We want to express that any infrastructure solutions designed for Isla Colón, must incorporate parameters of environmental sustainability in the transportation sector. The strategy should focus on the urban interaction of the resident and the Isla Colón tourist and not in the car; although logistical supplies required by the businesses established in the area must be guaranteed. Another issue to consider and regulate is the necessary demand generated by the ferry, which from your current port of disembarkation, puts excessive pressure on the urban center.

Bocas del Toro should be part of the strategy of the government of Panama, in regarding the mitigation of climate change, as expressed by Mr. President of the Republic in December 2020 in the framework of the Summit of Climate Ambition. A key point in President Cortizo’s speech was his allusion to the reduction of the “carbon footprint,” through infrastructure and green transportation. In this regard, we establish that cycling mobility must be taken into account, not from the recreational point of view, but from one that guarantees a means of sustainable and non-polluting transportation.

It is of great satisfaction for the signatories to have the opportunity to present the following proposal, the one we believe provides ideas and concepts that can contribute to improving the one presented by the consultant, appealing to historical reasons, cultural and sustainability that are recognized by the population.

We place ourselves at the service of the Ministry of Public Works and the consultant to cooperate with the development of a proposal that manages to combine the aforementioned concerns for the benefit of the population and the promotion of the tourist vocation of Isla Colon. 

For such purposes we are contactable by email Gbocasdeltoro@gmail.com or by phone 66730427.

Sincerely,

José Thomas, Architect and Manager of the Gran Hotel Bahía on Third Street.
Carlos Fitzgerald, Archaeologist and researcher at the USMA.
Juan Pablo De Caro, President of the Bocas del Toro Chamber of Tourism, owner of Buena Vista restaurant on Third Street.
Julio Mou, Architect-builder and representative of the Association Chinese-Bocatoreño Cultural Museum.
Ariel Pérez Price, Specialist in Economic Analysis of Law, author and history enthusiast of the province of Bocas del Toro.
Ilka Sánchez, Bocatoreña, structural architect.
Ariel Stephenson, Co-founder of the Black Bay Project, hospitality school in Bocas del Toro.
Joseph Archbold, Chef and Owner of Doña Mara Beach Hotel, Receta Michilá and Octo restaurant,  F Avenue. 
Juan Antonio Price, Bocatoreño, insurance risk and claims analyst advisor.

CC: Mr. Emiliano Torres, Honorable Mayor of the Bocas del Toro District.

 

 

It is interesting to note that Minister of Public Works Rafael Sabonge mentioned the following his opening remarks during the January 22 public hearing: “From its inception, the project is designed thinking of people and pedestrians.”

It would be fair to say that the alternative proposals mentioned in this article are aimed at accommodating the people of Bocas del Toro and its pedestrians. Will they be taken into consideration for the urban redesign of Isla Colon before all plans are finalized?

Let us know what you think of a historical pedestrian Bocas Town center and how you feel about  the proposals mentioned in this article. You can comment on Facebook and Instagram @thebocasbreeze where we will have posts dedicated to this story, or write is at editor@thebocasbreeze.com. We will do our best to make sure your comments are heard by the Ministry of Public Works.

Original letter in Spanish

The Bocas Breeze

The Bocas Breeze is a digital and print newspaper proudly serving the Bocas del Toro community since 2004; reporting news, advertising local businesses and promoting tourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

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