Mixed results for Spanish car reduction day

Barcelona pedals in support of day of "Auto-reflection" while in Madrid traffic jams increase

Simultaneous campaigns were held yesterday in Barcelona and Madrid, Spain's two most congested cities, to reduce car use and promote public transport and bicycle alternatives.

Barcelona City Council reported 90,000 fewer cars on the roads and a 55% drop in air pollution. There was a corresponding 16% jump in passengers on the railways while the underground and buses registered a 7% increase. The city centre's main arteries along with 100 other streets were closed to motor traffic, and saw a three-fold increase in bicycle-use. Some 350 bicycles were provided free by the city council to mark the day. Nearly 70 other municipal councils in the Catalonia region, of which Barcelona is the capital, also participated in the campaign and reported significant reductions in car use.

In Madrid, meanwhile, the "car-free" campaign sponsored by the city council produced no visible results except in the one city-centre street which was closed to traffic. Official figures said that car use was down 2%, but taxi drivers reported worse than usual congestion on Madrid's main arteries "because of the rain".

Catalonia's so-called "Day of Auto-reflection" was inspired by last autumn's "car-free" day in 35 French cities (ENDS Daily 10 September 1998), and was organised jointly by public authorities and civic organisations with advice from the Brussels-based organisation Eurocities.

Antoni Moral, head of environmental planning at Barcelona City Council, told ENDS Daily that "the campaign has been a notable success and we are looking forward to participating in the Europe-wide car-free day planned for 2000". Pau Noy of the Association for the Promotion of Public Transport said that Barcelona had achieved a greater reduction in car journeys (30%) than Paris last year. He added, however, that there was some concern that shopkeepers had reported a decline in business yesterday.

The environmental group Ecologists in Action blamed the failure to reduce traffic in Madrid on an "apathetic response" by municipal authorities and the absence of a public-awareness campaign. Spokesperson Paco Segura said that "it's significant that the Spanish environment ministry has ignored these traffic-reduction initiatives, whereas in France last year the minister was strongly involved in promoting the car-free campaign".

Follow Up:
Barcelona City Council, tel: +34 93 402 2456; Catalonian Association for the Promotion of Public Transport, tel: +34 93 301 3778; Ecologists in Action, tel: +34 91 531 2739.

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