Madrid and Barcelona move against pollution. Both cities created Low Emissions Zones (ZBEs) in 2018 and 2020 respectively. Both measures have faced judicial setbacks, but in the absence of final rulings, they remain in force. Meanwhile, two municipal governments have not only slowed down in the fight against pollution, but are moving to veto the most polluting cars to gain space for neighborhood use at the expense of asphalt and traffic. .
Political trust may be greater (in Barcelona, governed by the Commons of Ada Colau) or less (in Madrid, in the hands of the popular José Luis Martínez Almeida). But the law is strict. The European Commission has threatened both cities with fines of millions if they exceed the legal level (40 micrograms per cubic meter of nitrogen dioxide). And climate change legislation mandates municipalities with more than 50,000 residents to create low-emission zones. All this will happen after the World Health Organization (WHO) has lowered the alarming level and Europe will review the current maximum.
Barcelona has seen this week how Catalonia’s Superior Court of Justice (TSJC) annulled its Low Emissions Zone (ZBE). A veto for the most polluting vehicles in an area of 100 square kilometers in which vehicles without environmental label from DGT cannot enter from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm from Monday to Friday. The sentence is a setback for Kolau’s one-star project, which has been approved in the plenary session with the support of 80% of councillors. In two years, it has reduced daily trips by unlabeled vehicles by 600,000 and pollution by 11% (mobility was reduced in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic).
In response to the sentence, Kolau warned that he “will not step back”. “The right to pollution cannot be above the collective right to health”, he defends and says that the fight against pollution cannot be reversed. To do so, it would join the two tram networks via an important artery for traffic such as the Diagonal, it would turn four streets in the Eixample district into green axes without traffic, and it would be free of pedestrian or lanes reduction. Also making the school environment calm. Also, although there is no date, he wants to tighten ZBE by vetoing cars with a yellow label (B). For a health issue (pollution kills a thousand people a year in the Catalan capital), he defends it, and because of pressure from the European Commission to exceed legal limits.
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Madrid also exceeded those limits, and Madrid also observed how the Supreme Court in May last year left one of Manuela Carmena’s main legacies in the air: Madrid Central: 4.7 square kilometers of the center without environmental labels. Cars are banned, while cars with labels B or C can only access public parking lots. If Barcelona associations and transport employers took recourse, the complaint was submitted by the municipal group of PP for formal reasons in Madrid.
And although the current mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, presented himself at the polls with a promise to take back Madrid Central – he did just that with posters with his face and the slogan “#WithAlmeida, Madrid Central is over”. Filled up shelters – Madrid’s low emissions zone is still in place. In the ways of Almeida: with a new undisclosed name, ZBE-DEP Central District, and allowing entry to merchants, regardless of their vehicle. The result is that the previously 45,000 restricted vehicles can now enter. The change was reflected in a new sustainable mobility ordinance approved last September. That’s not the only novelty: A year ago another standard in the capital, air quality outlasted coal-fired boilers.
And the fight against pollution does not end here. The capital now has a strategy that Almeida has called Madrid 360. Beyond the center, the Sustainable Mobility Ordinance plans to extend restrictions, such as onion rings, from year to year until 2025. Madrid 360 has the same objective final as compared to Plan A. The previous mayor, Manuela Carmena: limit the movement of the most polluting vehicles in 2025 to an area of 604 square kilometers, which covers almost the entire city, where vehicles that do not have an environmental label will not be able to access. However, Madrid 360 extends the measure to 2024 for non-residents, who account for half the traffic. In 2025, the ban will already affect the people of Madrid: they will not be able to transmit with vehicles without labels.
The first phase of this deployment from this year affects the area around Plaza Elliptica, the capital’s most polluted area, which houses a municipal measurement station. “This will allow traffic in the area to be reduced by 18.6%, equivalent to a reduction of 37,000 vehicles per kilometer per day, to 1,500 vehicles during rush hour,” says Consistry.
In Barcelona, the opposition’s austerity, merchants afraid of losing business and carriers who claim they cannot renew their vehicles, are fierce. In Madrid there have been, although smaller, because the containment zones are also smaller. But there are people in the two cities who find the restrictions timid and ask for more.
In Madrid, the previous Ombudsman considered that Almeida’s strategy was inadequate, especially the new Central Madrid. “This is an environmental blow,” Francisco Fernández Marugan wrote in 2021, urging the capital’s city council to revise the new mobility ordinance. They are also critical of ecologists in action: “The pandemic was the right time to move forward in sanctions,” says his spokesman, Miguel ngel Ceballos, by phone. “It was a good lever to keep things going. Despite everything, they have not managed to destroy whatever was there”, he added.
In Barcelona, neighborhood organizations and environmentalists have called on the city council and the Generalitat to not only maintain the ban, but to establish an urban toll going forward (the two institutions will appeal the decision that nullifies the ZBE), Not only to maintain the ban. The entry of cars, a measure that would allow the law of permanent mobility.
Javier Querol, a researcher at CSIC based in Barcelona, but who advised the Council of Madrid, rescue airuse, a strategy he pioneered and which won the Best Green City Project award. The project proposes six recipes to improve air quality. One, create access lanes only for buses. Two, improving metropolitan public transport. Three, access toll. Fourth, reduce the most polluting cars and favor the cleanest cars with low emissions areas. Five, use electric or hybrid vehicles for the delivery of goods. and six, an urban redesign to gain space for vehicles.
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