TAMING THE TRAFFIC

Madrid to close off new section of city center to vehicles

Any non-resident who enters Sol or Palacio areas of capital will be slapped with a €90 fine

Traffic in Madrid’s Alcalá street.
Traffic in Madrid’s Alcalá street.SAMUEL SÁNCHEZ

Madrid City Hall is to close off a new section of the center to traffic, municipal government sources have told EL PAÍS. From January 1 next year only cars belonging to residents will be able to enter the 190-hectare area covering the capital’s Sol and Palacio neighborhoods. The move extends restrictions already in place in the Cortes and Embajadores districts, and will bring the total size of the zone limited to traffic to 352 hectares.

Vehicles that do not belong to those who live in the Priority Residential Area (APR), as the Popular Party-run municipal government of Mayor Ana Botella has dubbed it, will only be able to travel along the zone’s main thoroughfares. Drivers heading in to park in one of the APR’s 13 enclosed parking lots will have access, but City Hall will check license plates using 22 cameras in order to slap anyone who does not park with a fine of €90.

Motorcyclists will have free access to the APR from 7am to 10pm, while vans making deliveries to local businesses will be able to enter from 10am to 1pm on weekdays.

Botella wants to extend the restricted area to Chueca and Malasaña before she leaves office next May

City Hall hopes the measure – which will cost around €500,000 a year to operate and extends the pedestrianization policy put in place by former Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón – will reduce traffic in the affected area by over a third. “The main aim is to reduce traffic passing through the neighborhoods and the upheaval of looking for a parking space, at the same time as it increases the number of parking spaces for residents,” City Hall said.

Botella, who has announced she will not run for mayor at municipal elections next May, wants to extend the APR area to the Chueca and Malasaña neighborhoods before she finishes her term in office.

The strategy forms part of the Mobility Plan passed by City Hall earlier this year to gradually discourage the use of private vehicles in the center of the capital – the 5,000-hectare area that lies within the M-30 ring road – through positive discrimination measures in favor of public transport, bicycles and pedestrians.

City Hall has already raised parking machine prices for the most-polluting cars and reduced speed limits along entry routes into the most congested areas. It also plans to increase the use of tow trucks and the number of speed cameras.

Pollution remains well above legal limits imposed by the European Union in 2010

Botella has also promised to expand the number of pedestrianized areas by 25 percent, create more bus lanes and ban trucks from circulating during the day, though these measures will have to be approved by her successor in 2015.

The main aim of the plan is to reduce the volume of traffic in downtown Madrid. There are 1.7 million vehicles in the capital, of which 80 percent are cars. The economic crisis has meant that the average age of these vehicles has increased from 5.7 years in 2008 to 9.3 years in 2013.

City Hall also wants to reduce the number of accidents and noise levels, as well as pollution, which remains well above legal limits imposed by the European Union in 2010. Brussels authorities have already launched proceedings to impose a multi-million-euro fine on the Spanish capital.

Botella is confident that Madrid will be able to meet the European limit by January 1 of next year, following last year’s drop in pollution: levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is chiefly emitted by diesel vehicle exhausts, have fallen 25 percent since 2011. The rise in parking prices approved before the summer particularly targets diesel vehicles.