It is a contradiction in terms to think that you can improve traffic in Madrid and simultaneously reduce pollution by letting private cars circulate in the city center without restrictions. But according to the numerous declarations made during the election campaign, this is one of the priorities of the new mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida from the Popular Party (PP). Getting rid of Madrid Central, a low-emissions traffic-restricted area that was introduced by the former government of Manuela Carmena, would be a tremendous error. The capital would become the first European city to scrap a measure of this type; Spain could face fines from the European Commission – Brussels paused a sanctioning process because it thought Madrid Central was an effective measure – and, more serious still, it will have a harmful effect on the health of the people.
It is too soon to tell how Madrid Central, which was launched in December, could have affected businesses and restaurants. But it is a fact that pollution has dropped. Last month, 14 of the 25 monitoring stations recorded their lowest pollution levels in the last decade. The restrictions fulfilled their objective. What’s more, they are part of a movement that is happening across many big European cities: 280 have taken similar measures. Oslo, for example, announced in May the most ambitious legislation in Europe to reduce car traffic.
Madrid Central is about much more than the capital; it is about building a society less dependent on fossil fuels
But while Martínez-Almeida spent the election campaign ranting about Madrid Central, the future of the low-emissions zone is still not clear. The three parties that support the new majority in the city council have different ideas about what to do. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the deal between the PP and center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) says one thing (“Creating new priority areas for residents while providing alternative solutions”), and the deal between the PP and far-right Vox another (“We will end the policy of prohibitions and restrictions of the last four years by Madrid Central”). Their short-term goal is to stop issuing fines to drivers who enter Madrid Central without permission from July 1. This means temporarily maintaining the zone, but at the same time making it ineffective.
Getting rid of a measure just because it was put into place by an administration of a different ideological persuasion is a short-sighted way of understanding politics. In this case, it affects our health and goes against the spirit of the times. Madrid Central is about much more than the capital. It is about building a society less dependent on fossil fuels, and about incentivising new forms of urban transportation as part of the fight against climate change, goals that are shared by millions of European citizens.
English version by Melissa Kitson.