Ecological Transition launches a guide for municipalities to create their low-emission zones | Climate and Environment


Access sign to the Central District low emissions zone, in Madrid.
Access sign to the Central District low emissions zone, in Madrid.Jaime Villanueva

The Ministry for the Ecological Transition has presented this Friday a guide for the 149 municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants – and those with more than 20,000 more contaminated ones – that must install low-emission zones (LEZ) before 2023. The document specifies the criteria in terms of air quality, energy efficiency, noise and climate change that they have to consider. The guidelines do not determine that these restricted traffic areas must have a minimum extension, although they must cover a “significant” area that allows reducing pollution. For now, there are only such areas in Madrid and Barcelona.

Low emission zones (LEZs) are areas – located mostly in city centers – where access to the most polluting vehicles – the oldest ones – is prohibited to improve air quality. For this, the labeling system of the General Directorate of Traffic is taken into account: gasoline cars registered before 2000 and diesel cars registered before 2006 do not have a label. Label B corresponds to gasoline cars from 2000 to 2006 and diesel from 2006 to 2013. Label C, for gasoline after 2006 and diesel after 2014. Eco: hybrids in general. Zero: electric or hybrid with a range of more than 40 kilometers.

The Ecological Transition text, agreed with the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP), specifies that the objective of improving air quality in low-emission areas “must be quantifiable.” The municipalities have to establish a calendar to comply as soon as possible with the maximum pollution values ​​allowed by the European Union, which the main Spanish cities systematically fail to comply with. In addition, it calls for an attempt to comply with the new limits established by the World Health Organization (WHO), which are much stricter.

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The guide highlights that these areas should reduce the noise caused by vehicles, for which it recommends making an acoustic zoning of the cities according to the uses of the neighborhoods. In those for industrial use, the limit should not exceed 75 decibels (db), while in residential ones, 65. In the surroundings of buildings with sanitary, educational or cultural uses, the limit should be 60 db. The school revolt against cars protests, among other things, because many schools in large cities are located in front of urban highways that far exceed that number.

The guidelines identify different models of LEZs. The nucleus is the delimitation of a specific area in the municipality, which may be smaller initially but have an extension plan to more areas later on. An example of this typology would be Central Madrid, now called the Central District ZBE. Meanwhile, the ring is the delimitation of one or more transition zones with gradual measures to avoid a possible border effect. “It is a model in which a nucleus of greater restrictions and one or more areas of less restrictions are combined around the previous one, as is currently the case in Milan and London,” says the document. For example, if vehicles without a label or C or B distinctive cannot enter the center, the former could not enter the ring, but the latter could.

Differences between Madrid and Barcelona

Nor does the document determine for which types of vehicles access to an LEZ should be restricted, which “will depend on each case, and the restrictions should be designed in such a way as to make it possible to achieve the objectives.” For example, the Barcelona ZBE, which occupies almost the entire city and also several neighboring cities, restricts circulation to unlabeled vehicles from 7:00 to 20:00 on weekdays. Meanwhile, the Central District ZBE of Madrid occupies much less space – only the center of the capital – but it is much more restrictive, since it only allows residents and vehicles with an Eco or Zero label to enter that area. Cars with labels B or C can only enter if they go to a parking for public use, while those without a label are prohibited from entering.

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The text establishes the procedure for the implementation of these areas, a proposal for monitoring indicators and a wide catalog of measures that municipalities may adopt to encourage the change towards more environmentally sustainable mobility. In any case, the design of the LEZs must take into account the mobility pyramid, “giving priority to pedestrians, active mobility and public transport over private vehicles.” Regarding the latter, vehicles with low and preferably zero emissions should be prioritized, thus helping to promote the electrification of transport.

According to Teresa Ribera’s department, the LEZs are “a key instrument in the change towards a more sustainable mobility model, which will make it easier for Spain to comply with its commitments to mitigate climate change and with European regulations on CO₂ emissions that applies to the transport sector ”.

1,000 million euros in aid

At the end of August, the Ministry of Transport launched 1,000 million euros in aid so that municipalities can create low-emission zones (ZBE), buy electric buses and build bike lanes and pedestrian areas. Although at that time the Ecological Transition guide did not yet exist, the Transport requirements demanded that the consistories apply these LEZs to a wide area of ​​the town, promote active mobility (on foot and by bike) and have a gender perspective. , among other features.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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