Major and permanent traffic restrictions were introduced today in central Madrid, an area of 472 hectares where pedestrians, bicycles, electric vehicles and public transport will have priority in a measure that aims to improve air quality in the Spanish capital.
This is great news, a major step forward, and without doubt, the best legacy that Mayor Manuela Carmena could leave the city. Initially, the measures, which have been well-thought out and subject to consultation, will seem inconvenient, but the medium and long-term effects will be overwhelming positive, and we can expect further improvements to life in the city as traffic restrictions are extended to other areas of the city.
Many of our cities have been shaped around the automobile, and it is absolutely urgent to now redesign them in favor of people. Central Madrid was mostly laid out in the late 19th century, and its narrow streets, as well as its major roads, have long been jammed with traffic, creating noise and pollution that have made the city unbearable.
Opponents of the restrictions should take a long, hard look in the mirror and tell themselves that in exchange for some short-term inconvenience, they will soon be rid of unsustainable levels of traffic and pollution. They should then read the IPCC’s latest report, as well as the US National Climate Assessment (NCA), which although alarming, were written by level-headed and prestigious scientists who have seen their conclusions diluted by endless debates and the need to build consensus. The reality is much worse than these reports’ conclusions, and contrary to what some irresponsible individuals say, they are not theories or speculation and are instead harsh scientific reality. To dismiss them with just four words, as Donald Trump has, will not prevent an environmental catastrophe the consequences of which we have been suffering for many years now.
If the experiences of other cities is anything to go by, far from having a negative impact on shops, bars and restaurants in the center of Madrid, the new traffic restrictions will boost trade: soon, we will all have gotten used to them and pedestrians will take advantage. The next step needs to be to end street parking: allocating valuable space to long lines of parked vehicles is absurd when it could be used to allow non-polluting personal mobility vehicles such as bicycles or scooters to move around safely.
Our cities urgently need to be adapted to a sustainable future. Today’s measures put Madrid among the vanguard of forward-looking cities that are addressing the most pressing issues of our day. Those who oppose the new restrictions should be ashamed of themselves and will be remembered, if at all, as backward-looking.
Road tax doesn’t entitle car users to leave our vehicles in public spaces, and we should not allow it to be so. Cars must be parked out of the way, and whoever does not have a place for it will have to get used to living without a car and to solve their mobility in other ways. The space we will recover for the cities eliminating surface parking can be used to solve the challenge of sustainable mobility.
In a few years, we will look back and be amazed at how we could live in such polluted, crowded and unhealthy cities. My most enthusiastic congratulations to Manuela Carmena and her team at Madrid City Hall for having the courage to implement these restrictions. But we’ve only just started down the right road: let’s continue further.