How stupid do you have to be to cancel measures to combat pollution and reduce traffic?
Madrid’s new right wing mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, has carried out his threat to backtrack on traffic restrictions in some parts of central Madrid established by his predecessor Manuela Carmena. The move, which clearly demonstrates Martínez-Almeida lack of political stature and is making him an international laughingstock, is a stunning display of environmental ignorance and will surely trigger an avalanche of complaints and protests.
Restricting traffic in cities is the only way forward. There is no going back. Read that slowly and repeat it many times, because it is the only reality, whether we like it or not. It’s what large cities in the developed world are doing, making Madrid the first and only city in the world to commit the unforgivable stupidity of reversing the trend.
The central area of Madrid that the previous administration decided to protect was the smallest of those that established in comparable European cities, and much smaller than Amsterdam, Berlin or London (link in Spanish). And of course, it was a success in reducing emissions overall, rather than just sending traffic to other areas of the city. Furthermore, as happens with pedestrian zones created in cities all over the world, shops saw an increase in customers and turnover. Of course they did: why would Madrid would be any different?
Opponents of the measure, known as Madrid Central, have no evidence to back them up. There is plenty of parking in the area, and any vehicle can enter the area if they park on those. What’s more, a simple-to-use app allowed resident to invite a certain number of vehicles into the area. But none of the evidence, whether about the impact on lowering pollution levels in Madrid overall, or the evidence that shopkeepers and restaurants were making more money were taken into consideration by a coalition that includes the far-right grouping Vox.
Ending Madrid Central is such a retrograde step that is perhaps best understood as revenge, a return to the old way of doing politics in Spain. The new team running City Hall will deny the climate emergency, and is on record as saying that traffic jams are part of the identity of the town (link in Spanish).
Madrid now joins cities like Jakarta, the ultra-polluted capital of Indonesia where several citizen platforms are suing their government for not taking measures against pollution. Perhaps this is now the only way forward, given the appearance of populist politicians insensitive to the climate emergency, happy to undo whatever good their opponents had done, as well as going against all international trends in suspending measures that the vast majority of people had accepted and come to terms with. You have to be really stupid to destroy something like that. But, hey, that’s democracy for you.
(En español, aquí)