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Madrid maintains downtown parking ban as high pollution persists

Excessive pollutant levels extend over 30 kilometers outside city center

The pollution hanging over Madrid viewed from Alcalá de Henares, 30 kilometers away. Ampliar foto
The pollution hanging over Madrid viewed from Alcalá de Henares, 30 kilometers away.

Madrid remained covered by an enormous layer of smog on Friday, leading authorities to keep traffic restrictions in place for another day.

Drivers are facing speed limits of 70km/h on access roads to the capital and a complete ban on parking in metered public spots in the downtown area.

The decision to maintain the restrictions was made after two pollution measurement stations again gave air particulate readings in excess of safe levels.

The logical thing would be to have a joint management protocol for such sensitive issues, and not for each municipality to apply its own rules”

Alcalá de Henares Mayor Javier Rodríguez Palacios

Speaking from Paris, where she was attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena ruled out introducing even stricter measures until Sunday at the earliest.

Official city data shows that traffic in Madrid was three percent lower as a result of the parking restrictions introduced on Thursday. Under the rules, only card-holding residents, delivery vans and emergency services are allowed to leave their vehicles at metered parking spots in the city center.

This is the second time in three weeks that Madrid has introduced traffic restrictions to deal with the smog. Authorities have warned that this time they will be less lenient about fines, which in most cases were waived during the first parking ban.

Madrid city and regional officials have stepped up public transportation services to accommodate commuters who opted to leave their cars outside the city center and travel in by bus or subway.

The regional government said on Thursday that it had added 132 subway cars during rush hour, while the city sent out 55 extra buses, 31 percent more than on a regular day.

But nitrogen dioxide pollution – which is mostly caused by diesel engines – has now extended beyond the city center, reaching communities dozens of kilometers away from the capital.

Alcalá de Henares, which is over 30 kilometers from Madrid, on Wednesday logged a record 229 micrograms per cubic meter of the pollutant. Close behind came Coslada (228), Getafe (226) and Alcobendas (218).

Anything over 200 micrograms per cubic meter activates the City of Madrid’s high pollution protocol. But no such measures exist outside the city center.

Madrid residents are being encouraged to use clean transportation in the city.
Madrid residents are being encouraged to use clean transportation in the city.

Alcalá de Henares Mayor Javier Rodríguez Palacios, of the Socialist Party, said that the lack of a common response was a big problem.

“The logical thing would be to have a joint management protocol for such sensitive issues, and not for each municipality to apply its own rules,” he said.

Meanwhile, back in Madrid, the forecast remains pessimistic. If pollution levels keep rising, the city could have to move to a level three scenario, up from the current two. That would mean allowing only cars with odd-numbered license plates to travel into the center on days with odd dates and only even-number-plated cars allowed in on even dates.

English version by Susana Urra.

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