Mouths full of soot. Smoggy air and acrid plumes-the quintessential Guatemalan city center. Backpacking the country gave me the firsthand experience to know that many parts of the country are smothered with dollops of acrid plumes.

It might seem counterintuitive that so few cars can make streets pretty gross, but the cars that get exported from the US and Mexico are generally older, and produce more particulates than newer vehicles. Many lack catalytic converters, and the high proportion of bus traffic means that diesel busses are everywhere.

For the urban cores of cities, this means that the few people who can afford cars dominate narrow, colonial era streets. Many of these thriving urban cores date back hundreds of years in places like Antigua and Quetzaltenango. The cities have narrow urban streets like London or Paris, and many sharp and weaving elements thanks to the many hills.

However, the combination of low car usage per capita and high communal bus share makes it relatively easy to pedestrianize core parts of cities. People don’t really have cars, and already use busses for most transit other than walking. The negative impacts like smog, road deaths, pedestrian disruption are already becoming apparent. Thus, making the step to ban them from urban cores seems both rational and generating little secondhand impact.

 

An average street downtown-do you really need parking here?

Tourism

Almost 7.7% of Guatemalan GDP comes from tourism (for reference, this is 8.7 for Mexico and 2.6% for the U.S.). It is shocking that even in cities as picturesque as Antigua that cars are allowed downtown. Note that Antigua isĀ *literally a UNESCO World Heritage Site*, so this should indeed shock you. Busses could easily be routed towards the edge of the city, but ubiquitous access to every street in every city that was designed for horses and pedestrians of the 1700s is not something that one should bet on.

Next steps

Guatemalan politics has been busy as of late, in addition to literally electing a clown as President. Car use downtown is a negative factor for both tourism and quality of life at essentially every socio-economic status. Politicians have not paid for it yet, but expect for Guatemala never to adopt cars to the extent of America.

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