Barcelona gains kilometers for bicycles and pedestrians in the de-escalation while Madrid rejects permanent changes

The de-escalation is giving back the social and economic life to the big cities, and with it emerges a dilemma that their governments have already anticipated: How can you guarantee the mobility of millions of people on a daily basis without crowds and without the majority ending up using the car or the motorcycle. In Spain, Madrid and Barcelona, ​​which already violate EU pollution limits due to trafficThey are the ones who have it more complicated, but only the second one is taking measures for the time being to favor the so-called active mobility of cyclists and pedestrians with a vocation for permanence.

The City Council of the Catalan capital has put in place a plan that is running before the summer and that includes 21 new kilometers of bicycle lanes, 12 pedestrians and 52 streets cut during the day to be able to go on foot, almost all at the expense of the current space of the car. The consistory of Madrid, for its part, has opted for only temporary and limited measures on weekends with the closure of 36 streets to traffic (28.9 kilometers in total), although it is studying to enable municipal plots to eliminate parking bands in some streets.

At the moment it is an unknown to know how more than 9 million journeys in Madrid –between its central almond and the periphery– or the 5.6 of Barcelona city will change with the new normality, but with the pass to phase 1 you will start to see the trend. And the car starts with an advantage, because its use has fallen much less than that of public transport during confinement.

In Barcelona, ​​the metro had 25% of its usual volume at rush hour this Monday; traffic at the entrances to the city, meanwhile, 53%. In Madrid, half of the cars that were driving on the M-30 - the ring road that surrounds the center - before the restrictions of the state of alarm are already back on the road, while the users of municipal buses only have recovered by 15%.

More bike and pedestrian lanes

Throughout Europe, several large cities have considered it necessary to expand the space reserved for active mobility to avoid infections. Among the most ambitious are Paris, which has announced no less than 650 kilometers of bicycle lanes, or London, which is preparing a plan with areas directly free of cars and vans.

Further afield are the postcoronavirus plans of the two main Spanish cities, although there are also differences between them. The main one has to do with the bike lanes.

The consistory mobility plan Directed by the popular José Luís Martínez-Almeida does not give more space to this vehicle despite the fact that its use has flourished spontaneously on the road, taking advantage of the absence of cars. In addition, the city's municipal bicycle service, Bicimad, is the fastest growing form of transportation during the state of alarm. In less than a month, it has recovered 50% of the trips (6,000 a day) after being closed between March and April, at the peak of the pandemic. "This opportunity is getting out of hand when this moment shows us that, once the thing that deters the bicycle disappears, it comes out," says Miguel de Andrés, from the Pedalibre collective, who recalls that the City Council dismounted a lane exclusively for bikes in Hortaleza at the beginning of the mandate to turn it into a (mixed) cycle lane.

In Barcelona there is a strategy: create 21 new kilometers of bike lanes on the more than 200 that are already in the city and do it during the months prior to summer, parallel to the process of lack of confidence in the city. With a little orange paint and small separating elements, in what is known as tactical urbanism, the Barcelona town hall has already opened bike lanes on Pau Claris or Roger de Llúria streets. In others such as Valencia, Castillejos and Industria, the actions are expected to end in the coming days.

In addition, with similar interventions the Barcelona city council works to widen sidewalks on the road. Among them are those of Via Laietana and the pedestrian corridor of Consell de Cent, but also the closure of two sections of the sides of Diagonal and Gran Via to be able to go on foot. Between both strategies, there are 12 kilometers of pedestrianization.

A section of the Paseo de la Castellana, during the weekend. / Ricardo Rubio

A section of the Paseo de la Castellana, during the weekend. / Ricardo Rubio

And as for the street cuts, 36 in Madrid and 52 in Barcelona, ​​the main difference is that in the first one it is only for weekends and in the second one it is every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. "The strictly weekend measures are positive, but they do not represent a structural change in the transport model," says Adrián Fernández, head of Mobility at Greenpeace. The expert considers that the main difference between the mobility plans of the two large cities in Spain is that one, that of Barcelona, ​​has a "vocation for permanence". Other cities surpass the two main capitals in ambition: Vigo has pedestrianized 70 routes and Salamanca, 50, both much less populated, according to the analysis carried out by the environmental organization.

But there is another nuance: in the case of Madrid these are, especially, wide avenues, while in the Catalan capital small streets are mostly cut from neighborhoods far from the center and where it is considered that there are few alternatives for walking. The busy Paseo de la Castellana, in Madrid, or the Avenida de Menéndez Pelayo are transformed into weekends into spaces for pedestrians to enjoy. The capital initially released 19 kilometers from cars, which were extended a week later to 28.9, compared to 32.7 in Barcelona if pedestrian lanes and blocked streets are added.

But although Barcelona's commitment to sustainable mobility is more evident than that of Madrid - "pollution is a normality to which we do not want to return," proclaimed Mayor Ada Colau when she announced the measures - the environmental entities have not been satisfied . More than 500 have signed a manifesto, Let's confine the cities, it demands requires Catalan cities to give priority to pedestrians. Also to Barcelona, ​​whose measures are "insufficient". Guille López, from the Eixample Respira collective, considers that what the consistory has basically done is advance adjustments that it had already planned for the mandate. "There has not been a paradigm shift and, without it, we will return to a collapsed and noise-filled city," he denounces.

The Government of José Luis Martínez-Almeida has also advanced that it will accelerate planned pedestrianizations such as Puerta del Sol, kilometer zero of the city. The traffic-free sections are temporarily planned, in principle, only for the month of May.

The two cities have also promised to promote the use of the carsharing (shared car) as an alternative to the private vehicle. The mayor, Ada Colau, has announced which will expand the licenses and the Madrid consistory has advanced to the operators that the service will return to work in a few days again. The 11 scooter companies resumed their activity in the city also last week, pending a change in regulations provided by the City Council to prohibit (under penalty) parking on sidewalks.

The space of the terraces and motorcycles

Public space, and especially that of sidewalks, is limited. And right here a war is being fought over how much to reserve for pedestrians and how much to yield to the terraces, the support to which the hoteliers cling, that just to keep their current number of tables with the necessary safety space they already have to increase their plots.

The Madrid consistory will relax the restrictions for licenses and more bars will be able to request them always on the condition that there is space for pedestrians. "A 2.5 meter free passage area without breaks or obstacles," says the regulations. In addition, parking bands and land areas are incorporated as useful surface for these businesses, when it is not allowed to maintain a minimum space on the sidewalks, and pedestrian streets may also incorporate tables and chairs (except the 36 that are temporarily closed to traffic ). The new regulations allow the terraces to be installed next to the buildings without the permission of the Community of Owners.

The Barcelona City Council is committed, in this sense, that the terrace expansions, which could benefit 70% of the total, are not at the expense of pedestrians. They also foresee the removal of car parking lanes for this new use, although they admit that expansions will be considered in some pedestrian areas, basically boulevards or squares.

Regarding the space of the sidewalks, the commitment of the Barcelona City Council to intensify the fines for motorcycles that park on the sidewalks is also highlighted (it is only allowed horizontally to the roadway and on sidewalks between 3 and 6 meters). They will also enable 500 new parking spaces on the road and together estimate to remove 2,000 motorcycles from the pedestrian space, approximately 43,000 square meters.

Pedestrian corridor in Consell de Cent street

Pedestrian corridor in Consell de Cent street

Plans for public transport

Public transport is preparing in both cities for important changes. The offer, based up to now on satisfying demand, must be adapted to a priority condition: passenger safety. The Government has set a maximum occupancy level of 50% of seats in public transport and requires all passengers to wear a mask. In the event that there are standing users, a distance of two meters between them must be guaranteed.

These new requirements will force to improve the frequencies and the speed of transit. Metro de Madrid, whose management depends on the Community, is exploring how to extend the rush hour to redistribute commuters during the day. The suburban transported more than two million passengers during working hours.

The bus is, for mobility experts, the most elastic way to face a situation like the one that comes next. Madrid has stated its intention to execute new exclusive bus lanes to increase "commercial speed" but has not specified where and when they will be launched. The Barcelona City Council plans to create six new sections for the circulation of buses.

In Barcelona, ​​from the Metropolitan Transport Authority (ATM), in which the Generalitat has a majority representation, they have been saying for weeks that they will not take measures until they see how the demand for metro and bus recovers.

Regarding supply, in the EMT it remains at 70% compared to the situation prior to the epidemic, according to official data from the City Council, although the reduction in demand continues to be anchored at almost 85% despite the timid increases in last weeks. In Barcelona, ​​the offer ranges from 50% to 80% at peak times although the reduction in demand is currently close to 75% in the early hours.

This upturn in the use of private vehicles, given the feeling of security with respect to public transport, has transformed the modal distribution - in the Community of Madrid, only one fifth, the percentage that it used to do before the epidemic (Metro, Cercanías or bus) 5.5% vs. 20%) -, and can pose a problem of polluting emissions to Madrid and Barcelona, ​​which have been failing to comply with the legal limits set by the EU for 10 years. The fall in traffic throughout Spain in the last two months has halved pollution in the main cities, according to a report by Ecologists in Action.

Low emission areas

The declaration of the state of alarm has frozen in Barcelona the most ambitious measure to date to combat pollution: the Low Emission Zone, which vetoes access to vehicles without the DGT environmental label throughout the city. The ordinance in force since January 1, the Administration had given until 1 April to start the sanctioning regime, but this last measure has been suspended so as not to harm mobility associated with possible emergencies. Therefore, in practice, the ban on polluting cars is lifted, although with the commitment of the consistory to resume it one month after the alarm state ends.

Madrid continues to sanction vehicles that enter the low emission zone implemented by the previous corporation (Madrid Central) without permission. But the parking meters (SER zone) are deactivated while the alarm status is in force, so that you can park on the street without paying and without a time limit. The epidemic, however, has indeed postponed the municipal government's plans to cut Madrid Central. The coronavirus prevented the mayor from presenting his plan to Brussels in early March.


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