Marina Calvo Zarco
From a historical point of view it has received many other names, but everyone knows “Gran Vía” as a major street in the capital city connecting the centre of Madrid (Alcalá Street) to the north western part of the city (España Square), one combining order and chaos, modernity and tradition in an attractive way adjusting to the general city profile. The project of this old avenue was the start of restyling in Madrid, at the same time that the first skyscrapers were being built following the latest architectonic currents coming from of the USA.
Some year ago, the Government of Ahora Madrid planned the renovation of this big arterial road, one of its major transformations to the date which would end up our way of visualizing it: from the old passing-by street to a place meant to go for a walk and relax. Last 9 March the works began and thanks to them Madrid will become more modern, following a trend already existent in other big cities such as London (Oxford Street) or New York (Broadway Street).
This refurbishing project intends to enlarge the pedestrian area in this avenue at the expense of vehicle-assigned quotas, reducing to four the number of lanes open to road traffic, out of which, those in the extremes will be meant for public transport and taxis, as well as for cycling mobility in order to facilitate more sustainable transport. This enlargement of pedestrian areas will be accompanied by some other improvements, such as increasing the number of pedestrian walkways, planting trees and landscaped zones, enhancing more bus stops and free-to-use fountains, suppressing architectural barriers, redistributing the street furniture, designing traffic lights for functionally diverse people, more energetically efficient lightning, etc. These developments warrant to improve universal accessibility, giving an answer to loading and downloading, ensuring hotel service, giving priority to public transport and even boosting it and improving environment and landscape quality in this axis that grants commerce, tourism and leisure in the centre of Madrid.
It is a project to enhance a new model of mobility in Madrid, leading to a more sustainable city; in fact, it is part of the Plan A for the Air Quality and Climate Change that Madrid Town Hall is enforcing to transform the city centre, including the required measures to get a sustainable city that warrants its inhabitants´ health when they are faced with the challenge of pollution and strengthen the place by preventing the impacts of the climate change.
The Project we are referring to fits among several initiatives to transform the road layout in Madrid, such as the pavement widening in Malasaña and La Latina. All in all, they intend to enforce one of the measures of Plan A, the Zero Emissions Central Area, preventing visitors to drive into the area, including Gran Vía, supressing passing-by traffic in this central district to create a nicer environment, reducing noise and pollution. Pedestrians, cyclists and public transport will gain space.
On the other hand, important currents of followers, but also of detractors, have emerged; people showing a variety of opinions even in the affected guilds. The community of entrepreneurs of Madrid is in favor of the permanent pedestrian status of Gran Vía citing the case of Preciados Street and its positive impact on economy. However, the Traders´ Association of Gran Vía considers that the traffic restriction damages trade in the central district by shifting part of the demand towards malls in the outskirts, accessible by car.
To this concern, I think that the new pedestrian areas have a positive impact on trade, widening the space for peripheral bystanders, thus favoring consumption and, in this case, although it is not intrinsically a process of getting a completely pedestrian zone, since there will still be some road traffic, but a simple pavement widening, the effect will be equally positive, same way as it happened in Serrano Street by means of improving its pavements. That said, it is not only a question of gaining space for by-passers, but also of providing an easy access to the zone itself. For this reason, among others, I also think that betting for public transport and even reinforcing it is a brilliant idea to reduce traffic density and emissions.
In short, I consider it a sustainable project that will provide economic, social and environmental improvements, developed in the interest of a majority of citizens, both in mobility, since except for the private vehicle the rest of means of transport are at an advantage, and in environmental quality, an especially important task in Madrid.
“Photo 1.Gran Vía at Callao Square, the way that we have known it until the present day. Image obtained from the web portal flickr.”
“Photo 2. Post-workings recreation of the same urban point. Image obtained from the web portal eldiario”