The limitation to the car in Barcelona shows the metropolitan gap

There is no electoral campaign in Barcelona without heated discussions about mobility.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
24 May 2023 Wednesday 16:47
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The limitation to the car in Barcelona shows the metropolitan gap

There is no electoral campaign in Barcelona without heated discussions about mobility. And this 28-M is no exception. It is one of the main issues at stake, one of those that account for the city model proposed by each candidacy because it is related, in addition to the ease or difficulty of going from one place to another, with urban planning, economic activity, the consumption of fossil fuels, pollution, noise, waste of time... In short, with the well-being –or discomfort– of the citizens. And now more than ever, it makes clear the importance of the metropolitan environment through which thousands of people move, many of whom enter or leave the interior of the Catalan capital with deficient collective transport connections that contrast with the good service that Enjoy the Catalan capital. What is done – or not done – inside impacts outside and vice versa.

All the mayors, with different recipes, some clearly in conflict, urge to end this territorial gap, an issue that largely does not depend on the Barcelona City Council but on other administrations, the Generalitat and the central government, or on agreements between cities that should be taken in the Metropolitan Area. In any case, the issue has a special role in the municipal debate.

The last four years have led to a global loss of road space for private vehicles in the interior of Barcelona. We see it in four examples. Aragó, once considered by many an urban highway, between 2019 and 2021 ceded two lanes, one for buses and taxis and the other for bicycles. La Meridiana, another road that was dedicated to motorized traffic, has extended the reform begun at the end of the previous term, which entails the loss of one lane of cars per side up to Felip II. The works will finish this summer and everything is practically ready to continue towards Fabra i Puig. Consell de Cent, together with Comte Borrell, Rocafort and Girona, all of them streets in the Eixample area, are already green hubs; that is, pedestrian. The works are also almost done. And on the Diagonal, the tram between Glòries and Verdaguer is being implemented with the aim of launching it next March. The second phase remains pending until Francesc Macià, which would complete the connection of the Trambesòs with the Trambaix, for which the drafting of the projects has already been commissioned.

In all cases, priority is given to pedestrians, public transport and bikes. Collective means and active mobility in front of the car. A decision that is not to everyone's liking and that generates strong citizen and political controversies, very present, of course, in the electoral campaign.

In parallel, the general recovery of mobility after the crisis caused by the pandemic has been a fact for a long time. The levels are in many cases even above those of 2019. Peak hours again show crowds of vehicles – half a million access the city every day – and passengers on public transport. The roundabouts get stuck day in and day out, also in the morning towards Llobregat and in the afternoon towards Besòs. And the trains –metro, Rodalies and FGC– come and go full of sardines most of the days.

The mayoress and candidate of BComú, Ada Colau, defends that action be taken inside the city, transforming the spaces as in the aforementioned examples without having to wait for the metropolitan connections to improve. In her opinion, the City Council, with its measures limiting the car, pushes other administrations to improve collective services –especially Rodalies–, to open park-and-ride parks or new lanes reserved for express buses. And she puts her government's commitment to the tram on the Diagonal as a sign of the commitment to connectivity with the surrounding cities, in addition to having doubled municipal investment in public transport and the extension of the network of bike lanes.

In any case, the commons are proud of what has been achieved in the Eixample, which has gone from having traffic of 350,000 cars a day in 2015 to 285,000 now, although congestion, due precisely to the decrease in lanes, has grown in some streets from District. She also reminds Colau that pollution has been cut by 30% since she was mayor (actually only NO2 emissions have).

The debate on the tramway, which also entails a major urban transformation, is still alive, despite the fact that the different polls that have been published show that the connection via the Diagonal has growing citizen support. The matter has configured two irreconcilable political blocs. On the one hand, those in favor (BComú, ERC and PSC, who have formed a large majority) and on the other, the rest of the groups, who oppose the connection. PP, Cs and Valents even propose that the section under construction be reversed.

The former mayor and new mayor of Junts, Xavier Trias, has championed the rejection of this means of transport, despite the fact that the number five of his candidacy, Damià Calvet, has been a staunch defender and when he was Regional Minister signed the works which are now being partly financed by the Autoritat del Transport Metropolità (ATM). As things are, the post-convergents reluctantly abide by the part that is being built – to undo it would be nonsense in their opinion – but they do not even want to hear about the second phase and propose a high-capacity electric bus, the D30. Even so, his candidate does not rule out submitting the issue to a referendum since he is in favor of consulting on the great urban transformations as well as the pacification of streets. For the superblocks and the green axes – also for the network of bike lanes – he also proposes audits. Trias, who sees imposition in the mobility policies of the BComú and PSC government, advocates agreeing on them.

The Socialists defend that prudence is acted in the center of the city. The undesired impacts of urban planning in recent times on traffic are one of the reasons that have led the formation led by Jaume Collboni to defend that the extension of green axes and superblocks be halted, which they also want to evaluate in depth. At the same time, in public transport, he recalls the budget agreement reached with ERC in the Generalitat that will allow the expansion of several metro lines (L1 to Badalona, ​​L3 to Esplugues, L4 to Sagrera). In addition, he plans to extend L2 to the neighborhoods of La Marina and create a new bus, the H20, parallel to the Ronda Litoral. The mayor of the PSC insists that the underground must be reinforced and urges the Government to invest with the aforementioned actions and in L9 or the connection of the FGC Llobregat and Vallès lines through L8, requirements shared with the other parties, also the Republicans, who take them as commitments from the Executive on the mountain side of Plaça Sant Jaume.

Rodalies is the main open electoral front in the metropolitan connections. A few days after the start of the campaign, the serious breakdown that occurred in Gavà, which reduced the R2 service for three weeks, affecting thousands of passengers, brought this rail network back to the fore for the umpteenth time. The PSC claims the strong, unprecedented investment of the central government to bring it up to date. The argument does not convince either ERC or Junts who insist on demanding the total transfer to the Generalitat. The candidacy led by Ernest Maragall also proposes opening a third tunnel along the coast that will give more capacity. And, among other measures to improve metropolitan mobility, also the construction of 30 parks