At-risk Madrid Central scheme sees pollution fall to “historic” lows

Ecologists in Action report shows nitrogen dioxide at its lowest at 14 of 24 measuring stations in the capital, but a new right-wing administration could ditch the system

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The start of the Madrid Central scheme at Gran Vía.
The start of the Madrid Central scheme at Gran Vía.ÁLVARO GARCÍA

Air pollution in Madrid dropped to “historic levels” in May, according to a report by Ecologists in Action, a collective representing more than 300 environmental groups in Spain. The report attributes the drop in pollution to Madrid Central, a pioneering program launched by Madrid City Hall on November 30, 2018, to curb poor air quality and increase the space given to pedestrians.

Eliminating Madrid Central or changing it is absolute nonsense

Ecologists in Action

Introduced by acting Mayor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Más Madrid party, the Madrid Central program made 472 hectares of the city center off-limits to traffic, except for local residents and public transportation.

Since the program came into effect, Ecologists in Action have published monthly reports on the air quality in the city. Last month, 14 of the 24 monitoring stations in the Spanish capital recorded the lowest levels of pollution in a decade.

“The data proves it: Madrid Central has a positive effect on the air quality of all the city,” Carmena said about the results.

Every monitoring station in Madrid has recorded lower levels of pollution in the first months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, before Madrid Central was launched.

“The drop is very sharp within the perimeter [of the Madrid Central area] but significant falls are also seen in the surrounding areas. In other words, there is no border effect, rather the opposite is seen, a contagion effect,” explained Ecologists in Action.

According to the organization, the air-monitoring network recorded 22 micrograms per square meter of pollution – a level not seen since 2010. “And that’s considering it only rained one day,” they added.

“For common sense, we must protect the measures that make Madrid a healthier place, in line with other cities such as Paris, Berlin and London,” said Carmena.

According to local authorities, emissions of nitrogen oxide have fallen 38%  and carbon dioxide by 14.2%

Madrid Central has been one of the star policies of the former judge, but faces uncertainty in the wake of the results of the local election on May 26. Carmena’s party won the most votes with 30.94% of voter support, but fell short of a majority. Collectively, the right-wing Popular Party (PP), center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and far-right Vox have more councilors and could join forces to govern Madrid.

Carmena has vowed to try to retain her position but José Luis Martínez-Almeida, of the PP, may replace her if the three right-wing parties reach a deal. The PP wants to go back to an earlier, less-strict traffic-restriction system based on priority for residents if in government, while Vox has promised to ditch the program completely. After the results of the May 26 polls were announced, Vox secretary-general Javier Ortega Smith warned: “From tomorrow, Madrid Central is over.”

“Eliminating [Madrid Central] or changing it is absolute nonsense,” said Ecologists in Action.

Madrid Central has a positive effect on the air quality of all the city

Acting Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena

The monitoring station known as El Carmen, the only one located within the low-emissions zone, has recorded the biggest drop in pollution with nitrogen oxide falling 44% upon last year’s figures and 26% compared to its lowest measurements in the last decade (in 2013 and 2014). The most problematic areas in the city, Escuelas Aguirre and Plaza Elíptica, recorded pollution above the annual limit (40 micrograms/cubic meter), registering levels of 43 and 44 micrograms of pollution, respectively.

“Pollution has dropped – especially in the center and in the north of the city – without a hint of the border effect from Madrid Central; the notable benefits that this measure is bringing to air quality and citizen health are evident, for yet another month,” said Ecologists in Action.

According to data from local authorities, Madrid Central has led to a 24% reduction of traffic on Madrid’s central Gran Vía avenue, a 38% fall in emissions of nitrogen oxide and a 14.2% drop in emissions of carbon dioxide.

“Madrid Central shows the path to follow,” said Ecologists in Action. “More Madrid Central is needed, not less.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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