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Could 15-M pave way for a decent M-15?

Por: | 29 de julio de 2011

I do not own a car, neither am I legally permitted to drive one. My answer to inquisitions concerning my licence-less state usually leans toward the environmental, but the truth is earthed more in sloth than planet-saving zeal. The closest I have come to moving a four-wheeled vehicle forward is when I and my motorbike were robustly introduced to the back of one almost 20 years ago. I have never had the instinctive urge to be behind the wheel of a car and rarely turn my head to the siren call of a roaring Ferrari. Much like Iggy Pop, in the world of the motor vehicle I am a mere passenger.

Last weekend, thousands of people descended on Madrid -- many of them on foot -- from the far-flung corners of Spain to reignite the 15-M movement. On the previous weekend, residents of the capital were warned to remain indoors during peak traffic hours due to the extreme level of pollution hanging over the city. The foul air in Madrid has become a political hot potato, mostly juggled inexpertly by the city's environment chief, Ana Botella. Called to task by her counterpart at the national level, Rosa Aguilar, Botella fluttered her expensive eyelashes toward Brussels and suggested the European parliament award the city a moratorium on target pollution levels. She went on to say that the only way to slash Madrid's emission totals was to stop cars from coming into the center of town. “We would have to reduce traffic by 50 percent, which does not seem possible at the moment,” Botella said, adding that “the planet is at the service of the human being.”

If this isn't something to get indignant about, what is?Manto_polucion_cubre_Madrid

Thus far, Madrid City Hall's answer to the obvious pollution problem in the city has been to shift air quality monitoring stations from the center to greener pastures on the periphery. Madrid does not make the top 50 on Mercer Consultants' worldwide eco-living survey. Yale and Colombia Universities' Environmental Performance Index ranks Spain at 25, nestled between Belize and Panama. That Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón has not paused to consider the air quality issues facing Madrid in his megalomaniacal, and to date unfruitful, quest to bring the Olympics to town is an act of staggering arrogance: Madrid has neither the political nor economic clout of Los Angeles, or Beijing, and pollution is higher up the global agenda now than ever befote. 

Madrid's Sol square, where much of the 15-M protest has been centered,  hosts a curious landmark, kilometer 0 -- the central point of Spain's entire road network. It would be fitting if it became the focal point for a new branch of 15-M active protest; a blockade of Madrid's thoroughfares. The protesters halted traffic in Sol for around 20 minutes on Monday, with the police apparently disinclined to get involved with the same brutality that met the cordon around Barcelona's regional parliament. Another human blockade was forcibly dispersed around Congress on Wednesday, but much as volunteer citizens have rallied around the Platform for the Mortgage Affected to physically prevent evictions, the public response to a more concerted effort should not be underestimated. I am an armchair whinger at best but I would man the barricades. Why not blockade the city center, preventing all private vehicles from entering? Just two or three traffic-free days could bring the air quality back within EU limits, a place where it has scarcely dipped its toe in over a decade.

That might be enough to persuade vehicle owners and the political parties that a congestion charge should be introduced. Naysayers -- especially the occupants of City Hall, for whom such a scheme represents ballot-based suicide -- will point to the lack of evidence that such a charge noticeably improved air quality in London, but this is due to the sheer size of the English capital and the relatively small area of it the congestion charge covers.

The answer in Madrid, which covers about 600 square kilometers to London's more than 1,500, would be to extend the exclusion zone further afield, perhaps to the M-30 orbital road or the limits of Zone A on the metro system. To avoid too much backlash from disgruntled drivers, City Hall could introduce the charge as a pilot scheme for a month or two. In any case, any revolt on the part of car owners would be assuaged by pedestrians. After all, suggesting an entire city might like to remain indoors at the weekend is hardly designed to endear those in control of its functioning to voters.

And drivers could benefit as well; the money from the charge could be poured into Spain's euphemistically named motorways, which are little more than potholed one-lane construction sites choked with traffic trying to avoid the country’s pristine toll roads. That is the cost of choice. If with the income gleaned from an obligatory charge in Madrid the frankly third-world northbound A-1 and A-2 could be upgraded to something approaching the AP-1 pay road, for example, easing traffic and reducing accidents, of which I saw at least four when on the A-2 a week ago. It could even become possible to reach Zaragoza, Barcelona and Bilbao from the capital in less than a day. And little could be more popular in the aforementioned cities than the thought of Madrid coughing up for it all.

The 15-M movement is a genuine cause, born of the frustration of watching rapacious banks and a largely blundering, self-serving political class drive the nation to the brink of oblivion. But perhaps it is missing a longer-term issue; what's the point in trying to force through change if nobody will be able to go outside and see what it looks like? 

Hay 3 Comentarios

I buy that Ramon.

Ana Botella, the city's environment chief, said: “the planet is at the service of the human being.”
I can't believe my eyes as I read that line once and again. Such an arrogance!
This is the person who laughed as she clumsily read "gaviotas reidoras". Pathetic!!

Ahh, baloney. What needs to be done is not to reduce traffic two or three days a week. They need to get rid of all the diesel powered cars, which are not only the source of the pollution, they are also a great threat to the health and well being of Madrid's inhabitants.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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