For those who are accustomed to the congestion charge in cities such as London, or the sheer impossibility of accessing roads in the center of other major capitals, the fact that a boulevard such as Madrid’s iconic Gran Vía continues to be accessible to normal traffic may come as something of a surprise.
But from today onward drivers will find that the central thoroughfare has been invaded by barriers installed by City Hall, the aim of which is to increase the amount of space for pedestrians along the bustling store-lined street. This measure will be in place until January 7 reducing the number of lanes available for traffic from three to two. What’s more, on 28 different days there will be no access at all for normal traffic.
In contrast to previous years, the street furniture will not be removed during the week. Last year, blue zig-zag barriers were installed and removed at the end of each weekend or public holiday, but this time around, a series of 1,100-kilo concrete blocks are being installed. Such is the weight of each block that large cranes are needed to move them, prompting City Hall to put them in place in the early hours of four consecutive days. If the schedule goes according to plan, they should be ready by 5pm on Friday, which is when the full Christmas restrictions will begin on Gran Vía.
Municipal sources believe that the restrictions are likely to cause massive traffic jams, in particular during rush hour, given the amount of traffic that usually passes down the street. “The real problem is going to come when there are no restrictions [to regular traffic],” explain the same sources. “There will be more vehicles and the capacity will be much lower.”
The measures have been advertised via the electronic road signs throughout the city, in a bid to encourage people not to use Gran Vía during the holiday season. The barriers will remain in place at least until January 7 and access for regular vehicles will only be permitted on 10 days from Friday until then.
Trucks banned over security concerns
The new Madrid traffic rules for the Christmas period are also aimed at boosting security. Apart from the placement of concrete blocks to separate vehicles from pedestrians on Gran Vía, trucks over 3,500 kilograms will also be banned on the thoroughfare from December 1 to January 7 between 11am and 11 pm.
This measure was also in place last year but only for the traditional Día de Reyes (or Three Kings Day) parade on January 6.
That move came after an attack at a Christmas market in Berlin in which 12 people died when a truck deliberately drove into shoppers.
Following the Berlin attack, Madrid also stepped up its police presence: around 2,000 officers were deployed in the central Puerta del Sol square during New Year’s Eve celebrations and at the Reyes parade. A similar deployment is expected this year.
English version by Simon Hunter.