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TAMING THE TRAFFIC

Madrid moves to banish cars from center

City Hall to impose time limits on street parking, extend pedestrian areas and ban trucks in day

More bus lanes, resident-only zones and spots for bikes, among other traffic-reduction measures

A traffic jam on Madrid's Alcalá street: authorities hope the plan will help unblock the city center's roads.
A traffic jam on Madrid's Alcalá street: authorities hope the plan will help unblock the city center's roads.

Madrid Mayor Ana Botella, of the Popular Party (PP), has designed a plan to gradually push cars out of the city center.

“Madrid is for people, not for vehicles,” states City Hall’s new Mobility Plan, to which EL PAÍS has had access.

The gradual crackdown on cars will start going into effect this year and end in 2020, with the goal of favoring pedestrians, bicycles and public transport.

To do so, Madrid will apply “positive discrimination” measures such as a two-hour limit on street parking and raising the cost of parking meters to match the price of public parking lots.

The plan also includes measures to increase pedestrian-only areas by 25 percent; ban large trucks during the day; put camera-equipped vehicles out on the streets to record parking violations; build more bus lanes and give buses priority at traffic lights. Authorities are also planning to create three new restricted-access areas where only residents will be allowed to enter with their cars.

The plan was drafted in partnership with the opposition, social partners, business leaders and industry groups, and seeks to reduce Madrid’s traffic by up to eight percent, cut traffic-related deaths by half (there were 33 in 2010) and comply with the European Union’s pollution limits.

Currently, 29 percent of commutes are made in private vehicles. The Mobility Plan wants to reduce this figure to 22 percent over the next five years by encouraging people to use public transport and bicycles, and to travel on foot.

THE SITUATION NOW. Clogged roads and traffic jams

There are 1.7 million vehicles in Madrid. Of these, 80 percent are private cars. This pool has barely grown since 2005, not just because of the crisis but also because of the ageing population. Young people and economic activity are moving to the outskirts, easing up traffic downtown but clogging up the roads beyond the M-30 beltway.

On any given workday, there are over 2.5 million commutes in Madrid, and seven out of 10 either start or end in the suburbs. Although traffic fell 15 percent between 2004 and 2012, the drop was barely noticeable on these longer car trips.

It is also worth noting that while Madrid has 3,000 kilometers of streets, 85 percent of traffic is concentrated on one-third of them.

PARKING. More money, less time

Even though 95,000 new spots in public parking lots have been created in recent years and the supply of private parking options continues to grow, over half a million cars still park out on the street. The Regulated Parking Service, which runs the pay-and-display street parking system, has 165,000 spots that get used 350,000 times a day.

Finding parking space downtown “is practically impossible during the day,” leading to drivers going around in circles in search of a spot. The Mobility Plan will create 15,000 new parking spaces at access points leading into the city, to encourage drivers to leave their vehicles there and take public transport the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the price of pay-and-display will gradually go up within city bounds to match the price of city-run parking lots: two hours of street parking will cost €4.85, up from €2.75. Drivers will not be able to purchase a new ticket for the same spot as their license plate will be recorded. Double parking will be fought with camera-equipped vehicles.

PEDESTRIAN AREAS. Wider sidewalks

In 2006, then-mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón banned cars from some downtown streets such as Arenal and Fuencarral, doubling the number of pedestrians on them. Between 2004 and 2012, commutes on foot grew to represent 31 percent of all journeys, up from 29 percent.

In recent years, budget problems have stopped the city from turning other streets into pedestrian-only areas. But the Mobility Plan hopes to raise the total pedestrian surface area from 42 to 50 percent, though mostly by widening sidewalks and reducing the number of car lanes.

The plan also talks about creating a new pedestrian route between the Retiro and the Casa de Campo parks through the Lavapiés neighborhood. Traffic lights will also be timed to give pedestrians enough time to cross the streets (0.5 meters per second).

PRIORITY ACCESS. Three more resident-only areas.

There are currently three parts of town where only residents can enter with cars: Las Letras (since 2004), Cortes (since 2005) and Embajadores (since 2006). Traffic in these areas has dropped 32 percent, but the study notes that “the restricted-access regulation system is complex and notably expensive,” making it “hard to export to other areas.” Instead, more inexpensive solutions are being contemplated for Ópera, Justicia and Universidad.

MOTORCYCLES AND BIKES. More parking space.

The number of motorcycles and bicycles has grown 30 percent since 2005, and even though parking spots for them have tripled, the supply continues to be “entirely insufficient”: there are 5,937 spaces for 144,500 vehicles. The plan is to create more spots and free up the sidewalks, where two-wheeled vehicles are currently allowed to park. More bus lanes will also be made available to them.

Bicycle usage has nearly tripled in downtown Madrid since 2008, yet continues to represent less than one percent of vehicle commutes. As well as expanding the bike lane network, the city also plans to raise the number of electric bicycles available for rent, from the current 1,580 to 3,300.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT. Bus lanes and traffic lights

The city’s public transport system carries three million passengers a day, 40 percent of whom ride buses. Since 2004, however, there has been a nine percent drop in passengers, mostly because of the crisis.

The Mobility Plan is proposing to create a circular rail line ringing the city, although this project requires support from the Public Works Ministry. It also plans to extend Line 9 of the regionally controlled metro system to the area around Costa Brava street.

Local authorities want to create a circular, high-capacity city bus route crossing Madrid’s peripheral districts. Given that a quarter of the average ride is spent sitting in traffic or waiting for lights to turn green, the plan is to lay down 90 more kilometers of bus lanes, especially in peripheral areas, where high-occupancy private vehicles may also be allowed to drive during rush hour.

Buses will also get “maximum priority” at crossroads with little traffic. Three mass transit hubs allowing riders to switch from bus to subway to train are planned for Chamartín, Conde de Casal and Legazpi.

TAXIS AND CAR SHARING. Fewer empty vehicles

There are 15,646 taxi licenses in Madrid, or nearly three taxis per 1,000 inhabitants. Of these, around 60 percent drive around without passengers at any given time. The Mobility Plan contemplates the possibility of banning empty taxis from congested areas at specific times when  large numbers of taxis are around.

Car sharing is still a minority option (in 2012 there were 61 vehicles and 5,000 users) but the city wants to encourage it. The long-term plan is to integrate this fleet of cars with public transport through regulated fares.

LOADING AND UNLOADING. More restrictions

Every day, merchandise is loaded or unloaded up to 33,000 times in downtown Madrid, despite a 15 percent drop since 2008 as a result of the crisis. Deliveries account for 14 percent of pollution and a quarter of all illegal parking. In order to redress this situation, the city wants to install parking meters that, rather than charge delivery vehicles, set them a maximum standing time. Large trucks will be banned from the city center in the daytime, and will have to deliver their goods at night.