The municipal and regional elections concluded last Sunday seemed like a good moment to resolve issues that have been on the public agenda for a long time but that have not yet entered the citizen debate, except in small doses. The big cities have as their ‘must’ to solve the multiple problems derived from their territorial or population growth, and 28M seemed the moment to deal with them, but they did not find their place in the campaign discussions.
Issues such as air quality, mobility models, urban design or care for the environment have hardly had a place in the weeks leading up to the elections. Brussels is demanding to renew regulations, adapt to the new climate reality or transpose hundreds of standards in terms of sustainability that the Spanish political times do not seem to allow to prosper. The large metropolises, Madrid and Barcelona, continue to have to resolve their bad pollution data, but the response to the million-dollar fines imposed by the commission
The law that limited pollution, in the air
All these questions have their answer in the Sustainable Mobility Law, the norm with which the Government tried to impose a common framework for all cities that would force them to comply with the commitments acquired with Brussels in exchange for receiving European recovery funds In But it is doubtful that this rule will end up seeing the light, even more so if there is a change of Executive in the central administration.
With a preliminary draft approved by the Council of Ministers in December 2022, the call for general elections for July 23 has caused its parliamentary process to decline, so its final approval would remain in the hands of the next Government, if it wants to get it as such. and how it is written. Despite closing its public hearing process in mid-April with 203 allegations, it has continued to receive criticism from various partners of the Coalition Government (Unidas Podemos, ERC and Bildu) for “disappointing” and “lack of ambition and specificity”.
Immobility threatens the urban transition
While European cities such as Paris or London turn towards new transport models, limit the use of private vehicles and introduce the variable of noise pollution in their actions, the few advances that occur in Spain end up running into protests and frontal opposition from adversaries politicos If after the pandemic there seemed to be a certain unanimity in the need to redefine cities and make them more livable, that debate was abandoned haado and has given way to confronting immobile models against those who advocate continuing to limit the movement of cars through the center of the cities .
It is not necessary to recall the gigantic controversy that the launch of Madrid Central gave rise to. Driven by the then mayor Manuela Carmena, the current mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez Almeida, stood in the elections defending his elimination. After seizing the command rod from him, he maintained the low emissions zone, although he changed its name and made access requirements more flexible. And he executed these turns despite the opposition of Vox, a key partner of a PP that needed his votes to carry out the accounts or the new ordinances and that left the city council of the capital without budgets in 2023.
Although with different actors and events, the background of this controversy has been replicated in cities such as Barcelona or Valencia, where their until now mayors Ada Colau (En Comú Podem) and Joan Ribó (Compromís) have launched ‘superillas’ that give back space to the pedestrian at the expense of the roadway for vehicles. Nor have cities such as Valladolid or Logroño been spared, which have advocated transforming their mobility model with more space for public transport or bicycles through bus and bike lanes.
The battle for public space
All these cities, governed by left-wing parties or coalitions, have received the same reply from their political adversaries: any measure that involved removing space for private vehicles turned into a public battle. And it is that same opposition —normally made up of PP and Vox— that, after the result of the elections on May 28, will govern the next four years in the aforementioned cities.
Although not many changes are expected in the capital, concepts such as the “tactical urbanism” used by Barcelona or Valencia could disappear. The winner of the elections in Barcelona and former mayor for Convergence, Xavier Trias, has promised to stop all the superblocks and green axes planned by Colau, in addition to removing all the elements and fences that delimited these new pedestrian spaces on the roads.
The perspectives are not very different in a Valencia where the PP returns to the mayor’s office after eight years of incessant criticism of the pedestrianization and pacification of the urban center promoted by Ribó. Nor in Valladolid, plunged into a deep urban revolution that has led it to renew its entire transport network or build bike lanes on key axes. The popular Jesús Julio Carnero, foreseeably the next mayor, began his campaign promising a “more useful, efficient and healthy” mobility while defending reducing the low emission zone to its minimum legal expression.