How Spanish cities are working to reduce cars and encourage bicycles

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Pontevedra was a city that people left because the car suffocated the life of its medieval center.

Determined to save the city from fumes, traffic jams and deaths from traffic accidents, the mayor of this town in northwestern Spain has put in place a radical plan to return it to pedestrians.

Less than a month after coming to power in 1999, Miguel Anxo Fernandez Lores pedestrianized the 300,000 square meters of the city center.

“Before you couldn’t hear anyone talking, now you can,” Lores told Euronews.

“We had between 80,000 and 150,000 cars arriving every day in a city of 80,000 people, about three times the density of Madrid or London. It was impossible to drive or walk. There were constant traffic jams People wanted to leave because it was so blocked.

Pontevedra has decided to reduce the number of cars that can enter so that only “essential vehicles” are allowed to enter the center.

Cars were no longer allowed to cross the city to go elsewhere. On-street parking has come to an end as a study showed that most traffic jams were caused by people looking for a parking spot.

All surface car parks were closed in the city center and underground car parks were opened outside the city center with 1,686 free spaces. Traffic lights have been replaced with roundabouts and a car-free zone has been extended. The speed limit has been reduced to 30 km/h or even 10 km/h in intra-urban areas.

Pontevedra has won awards from the United Nations and the European Union for the way it has transformed the city.

“There has been no fatal accident for 11 years. Pollution has been reduced to half a ton per person per year. And the quality of life has increased tremendously,” Lores said.

Similar programs have been adopted in Oviedo, San Sebastián and Logroño.

The Spanish government hopes to repeat Pontevedra’s success elsewhere by introducing low-emission zones in 147 towns by next year to curb pollution, congestion and noise.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment said: ‘We have passed a law which obliges city councils to create low emission zones in town centres, but how this is done is up to individual authorities.

Ecologists in Action, a conservation group, applauded the measure, which received broad public support in Spain, but said it was disappointed with the slow response from city councils.

Under Spain’s climate change law of 2021, cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, with the exception of Madrid and Barcelona, ​​must draw up plans for these areas. Spain’s two largest cities already have programs in place to restrict gas-guzzling cars.

The cars will be classified according to their degree of pollution of the atmosphere. Those classified as ECO or 0 are electric or hybrid cars. Drivers will be allowed to park wherever they want in low emission zones.

C-class cars include all those that are not hybrid, micro-fuel, electric and in the case of petrol cars registered before 2006 or diesel before 2015. This constitutes the largest group of vehicles in Spain.

The other B grades are the oldest petrol cars registered before 2001 which can face the heaviest fines for entering low emission zones or being banned.

Pamplona, ​​the city in northern Spain known for its famous bullfighting festival, plans to introduce a low-emission zone to its narrow, cobbled streets by the end of 2023.

Any polluting car without an appropriate badge can be fined up to €200, but entry into the zone is free.

The car is still king in most Spanish cities, say conservationists, but most Spaniards want that rule to end.

A poll for eldiario.esa left-wing news site, published on September 20, revealed that 70% of Spaniards were in favor of limiting energy consumption, restricting the use of cars in cities and increasing taxes for the most polluting activities.

Another survey for Clean Cities Campaign, which is allied with Ecologists in Action, published on September 22, revealed that 62% of residents of Barcelona, ​​Paris, London, Brussels and Warsaw favor banning cars in cities on certain days of the week in order to reduce the dependence on oil.

If the will to remove cars from cities is there, why are politicians dragging their feet?

“We support the Spanish government’s measure to introduce low emission zones in cities. However, we are disappointed with the slow response from city councils,” Carmen Duce of Ecologists in Action told Euronews.

“In some cases, there is also a small but powerful lobby that has succeeded in overturning measures to restrict car use. Elsewhere, some politicians may not want to introduce sweeping measures until next May’s local elections. »

However, the tide may be turning as the bike is riding high.

In Barcelona, ​​a croc of small bikes weaves precariously through rush hour traffic one day a week, escorted by a praetorian guard of relatives.

It’s the bibus – the velobus – small children on their way to school while cars and trucks stop to let them pass.

A police escort makes sure they get to school safely.

Bicibus is the brainchild of parents in a city neighborhood who thought their children should be able to cycle to school safely without being intimidated by rush hour traffic. After launching a year ago, 11 more have sprung up across the city and the campaign has gone international.

Parents in Glasgow, New York and San Francisco have reached out to campaigners in Spain to create their own versions of the bike taxi.

“There has been a boom in these bicibus programs and we have attracted interest from all over the world,” bicibus organizer Rosa Suriñach told Euronews.

“The advice is favorable but there have only been changes locally. There is no comprehensive program for Barcelona to make the city more bike-friendly.

A Barcelona City Council spokesperson said: “The authority supports the bicibus initiative and the use of bicycles in general through the use of cycle lanes in the city.”

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