Smog-hit Madrid mulls ban on non-residents’ cars in city center

Draft traffic plan would see downtown converted into a pedestrian priority zone

Madrid has consistently exceeded the EU's limits for NO2.
Madrid has consistently exceeded the EU's limits for NO2.Kike Para

Madrid City Hall has unveiled new measures aimed at combating chronic pollution in the Spanish capital.

Under a new 30-point draft plan announced on Wednesday, the city center would be converted into a pedestrian priority zone (see here) with restrictions on private vehicles that would limit traffic along the city’s iconic Gran Vía.

Residents and non-resident drivers would have free access into the city center only if they were traveling directly to a private or public parking space under the draft Quality of Air and Climate Change plan, put together by the city’s leftist government.

Other measures on the table include a 70km/h speed limit on city access roads, including the all-important M-30 ring road, where the current speed limit is 90km/h.

Non-residents would be barred from the city center if all car parks were full

“This is a European Union requirement imposed on Madrid for systematically exceeding [pollution] limits and exposing people [to potential health risks],” said environment councilor Inés Sabanés.

Madrid has been exceeding the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) threshold set by the European Union since the creation of the monitoring system in 2010. Besides the serious health issues this raises, the city could also face a hefty fine from Brussels if it fails to address the problem.

Nitrogen dioxide, which originates chiefly in diesel engine emissions, had been decreasing in Madrid for a couple of years, then spiked again in 2015 due to a rise in traffic (itself, presumably, the effect of Spain’s improving economy).

City residents have become used to pollution-control measures, with speed limits and parking bans in metered areas imposed during a period of heavy smog in the fall of 2015.

Earlier this year, the city council approved stringent new anti-pollution rules, which could see all vehicles banned from entering the downtown area on days of persistent and acute air pollution.

Madrid City Hall wants major roads redesigned to become more bike friendly.
Madrid City Hall wants major roads redesigned to become more bike friendly.Jaime Villanueva

Such restrictions could become normal under the plans, with one proposal being the removal of blue (visitor parking) zones in the city center in favor of green (resident only) zones.

The new parking rules would mean non-residents could only use public parking garages, with access to the city center cut off once those locations were full.

Exceptions would be made, however, for vehicles using greener technologies.

Madrid City Hall is also looking at extending its new parking meter system (SER) beyond the M-30 ring road and creating a network of parking garages in the greater metropolitan area to discourage people from parking in the center.

A scheme criticized by the conservative Popular Party, which believes it would lead to greater traffic volumes and increased parking costs, but supported by other opposition groups, would see a redesign of major arterial roads around the capital to discourage car use and promote bicycles and public transport.

English version by George Mills.

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