There are forums that are promoted a lot in the city of Madrid. And there are others, not so much. The capital of Spain has hosted this Thursday and this Friday the third European Union Clean Air Forum without much media coverage. The day with the most influx and with the most expectations began this morning on time at around 9.30. The colloquium was held in a room of the Reina Sofía Museum. On a blue stage and red chairs similar to those of the The Sixth Night, the Mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, and the European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries of Lithuanian origin, Virniginijus Sinkevicius, have kicked off the last session.
“I like to fill my lungs with pure, clean air,” Sinkevicius has observed. “That is the air that Europeans deserve to breathe.” The debate on air quality, which takes place with English as the mother tongue, has started with the global diagnosis of the air situation in Europe. “We have the tools and we can learn from our mistakes. There are more than 300,000 deaths attributed to air pollution on the continent ”. The EU representative encouraged all politicians to take action as soon as possible to lessen the impact of pollution on cities.
The area with the highest mortality burden from pollution
The latest official data on pollution in Madrid are devastating. The capital and its metropolitan area are the urban area in Europe with the highest mortality burden attributable to air pollution by nitrogen dioxide (NO2), the main source of which comes from road traffic, especially diesel vehicles. This is reflected in a study carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation, and published last Thursday, which updates an investigation originally published last January in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.
“There are too many people who are exposed to toxins,” continued the commissioner. “Two thirds of ecosystems also have problems with air pollution. This contributes to global warming. We have to be aware that it has not been solved in 2021 and 2022. We have to do more and we will do better ”. After the intervention of the commissioner, the moderator gave way to the mayor of Madrid:
―José, tell us what you have been doing so far to improve air quality in Madrid.
Almeida rose from his chair, went to the podium, and saluted in English. After a brief introduction, he switched to Spanish to tell the EU commissioner about his sustainability plan for the capital of Spain. His speech lasted ten minutes: “It is a pleasure that Madrid can host this forum. In a previous private meeting I have told the commissioner that we have many commitments to reduce pollution. For us, it is a priority. All thoughts go along these lines ”.
Almeida began his diagnosis with a forceful phrase: “Madrid has been failing to comply with air quality regulations for more than 10 years […] Efforts have been made by the different government teams ”. He did not speak, however, of his 2019 electoral promise to reverse Madrid Central. “When we arrived two and a half years ago, we understood that Madrid 360 had to be launched, a plan that focused on the 21 districts. We want to make Madrid a reference city within European cities. For the first time, we have approved by a large majority of the plenary – only Más Madrid voted against it last June – an ordinance on air quality and against climate change ”.
He explained that, in Madrid and thanks to these regulations, each event of more than 5,000 people will have to have an environmental impact report, that its ordinance also includes the rehabilitation of buildings, that coal boilers will be prohibited in 2022 … focused on the new mobility ordinance, approved last September with the votes in favor of the PP, Citizens and four votes from the Mixed Group, the four councilors who left Más Madrid in April of this year.
Almeida said that “he is working intensely” in the generation of alternatives to the private vehicle. Madrid 360, however, allows the entry of more vehicles than before in the central area of the capital: merchants’ cars. He explained that this new regulatory framework allows the city to reduce greenhouse gases. He spoke of one of his star measures: “For the first time there are free lines to promote the use of public transport.” There are three lines that pass through the downtown district. He also said that next weekend “all public transport owned by the City Council will be free” for Black Friday and the Christmas lights on. However, BiciMAD, the municipal bicycle service, will not be free. Only the use of the buses will be free. The metro is the responsibility of the Community of Madrid.
The mayor of Madrid explained to the public at the forum that his environmental plan includes the elimination of diesel buses by 2023. “And in 2027 they will all be electric.” About the seventh minute of his speech, he focused on his commitment to the mobility of bicycles: “We have increased by 90 the stations of the public bicycle system; this has allowed us to reach 15 districts of the 21 of the city ”.
Almeida avoided telling the forum about the unfortunate state of BiciMAD, the focus of hundreds of daily criticisms by users on social networks. In August one in three public bikes were broken. “We are not going through our best moment”, admitted to this newspaper Carlos Mateo, director of Mobility Services of the Municipal Transport Company.
He also explained to the audience his great cycling commitment for the remainder of the legislature. “We are weaving a network of bike lanes that has an integrating character with the axis of Paseo de la Castellana”. His bet on bicycles lasted only one minute of the ten of his speech. The reality of bikes in Madrid is very different. The capital of Spain has never championed a serious commitment to this sustainable means of transport. Contrary to what happens in the rest of European capitals or large Spanish cities, the city hardly has any bicycle lanes. One kilometer for every 100 of public roads; 15 times less than Bilbao, Seville or Barcelona. Madrid is committed to cycle lanes. Here the cyclist shares the avenues with the cars. That is, the vehicles should circulate at most at 30 kilometers per hour if they have a bike in front of them. Almost no one complies with it. A danger that cyclists have always denounced.
To conclude, he explained his green areas project. “This week we are going to start planting 100,000 trees after the catastrophe caused by the Filomena storm for the city.” And he concluded: “We all have to work so that Madrid complies with the air quality limits and we comply with the requirements of the 2030 Agenda. That is the commitment, Commissioner.”
Sinkevicius picked up the glove and spoke: “Building kilometers of bike is not enough, they have to be safe. Companies also have to bet on safe places for workers to park their bikes. It is an entire ecosystem. I hope that Madrid is going the right way ”.
Coincidence or not, in recent weeks the Madrid City Council has launched a campaign of 100,000 euros on social networks, public transport and the media, including this newspaper, where the capital claims to be “the second most sustainable city of the world”. The study is based on a British classification of a British website that compares the price of electricity, gas and mobile telephony with data with very little scientific rigor.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.