Madrid sets speed, parking restrictions to fight pollution
Madrid city hall on Friday for the first time imposed speed limits and banned parking in the centre of the Spanish capital in an effort to reduce air pollution levels.
The city council, led since June by an alliance of leftist groups, said it decided to apply the restrictions since Friday morning after several days of excess levels of nitrogen dioxide which has left an almost permanent pall of brown fumes hanging over the city.
Parking in the streets of central Madrid was banned for non-residents and the city imposed a speed limit of 70 kilometres (40 miles) per hour on access highways, down from the usual limits of 80-90 kilometres per hour.
The authorities urged residents of the city of 3.1 million people to use public transport.
The measures, which were decided late on Thursday, sparked criticism, especially from the conservative Popular Party which ruled the city for nearly a quarter century and which governs at the national level.
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria criticised the “hastiness and lack of preparation with which these measures were adopted.”
Ines Sabanes, who is responsible for environmental issues at Madrid city hall, defended the moves, saying “the situation changes from hour to hour”.
“This is a first experiment. We are all learning to better manage the data,” she added.
Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena, a 71-year-old former judge, vowed during her campaign to take action during times of high pollution.
The city often gets engulfed in a murky brown cap that can be seen from a far known as “the beret”.
The Spanish capital is the sixth most polluted city in Europe, according to a ranking published in 2014 by French environmental organisation Respire. The European Commission has repeatedly threatened to sanction the city over breaching air safety standards.
Under new regulations which came into effect in March high levels of air pollution can trigger automatic traffic restrictions in the capital.
The new rules establish warning levels, which if they are sustained, will lead to a progressive implementation of restrictions leading up to a bar on access to some vehicles.