Huge traffic jams hit ‘car-free’ day in Madrid

Frustrated drivers take to social media to vent their frustation over lengthy travel times

Cars on Madrid’s A-6 freeway on Thursday morning.
Cars on Madrid’s A-6 freeway on Thursday morning.

The Spanish capital celebrated its annual car-free day on Thursday with gridlock on the city’s roads.

Travel times were 59% longer than usual during peak hour on Thursday morning, Madrid City Hall admitted in the wake of lengthy delays for drivers heading downtown. And from 9am to 11am the situation was even worse, with travel times up 89% on average.

European day without cars. In Madrid it's celebrated with the biggest traffic jam in months.

The chaos on the roads occurred during Madrid’s “Día sin Coches,” or car-free day, when parts of the city center are given over for several hours to green forms of transport such as bicycles and pedestrians.

Among the day’s events, which are part of European Mobility Week, is a bike ride for children organized by the European group STARS, which aims to get more schoolkids riding to class.

But aggrieved Madrid drivers were more concerned about the lengthy delays to their morning commute on Thursday, taking to social media to express their frustration.

@police This is a massive traffic jam for a car-free day, 45 minutes for a five-minute trip

Madrid is often plagued by air pollution, and the city has been exceeding the NO2 threshold set by the European Union since the creation of the monitoring system in 2010. Besides the serious health issues raised, the city could also face a hefty fine from Brussels if it fails to address the problem.

Adding to the problem is the aging of vehicles on Spain’s road. The country’s economic crisis has seen the average lifespan of vehicles almost double in Madrid – from 5.7 years in 2008 to 9.3 in 2013 – while almost 70% of the city’s 4.2 million cars run on diesel.

In January, Madrid City Hall said it was looking into banning diesel cars from the city center from 2020.

English version by George Mills.


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