As of last Friday (at 5 pm), the city center of Madrid, Spain, has been free from vehicles not belonging to residents of the area. In practice, this is turning the whole city center into a pedestrian zone.
The ban only runs through Sunday (until 10 pm), for a total of 9 days, but should give residents a good idea of what life without endless traffic jams, noise, and air pollution could be like.
To be extra clear about this, the city center isn’t free from all vehicles, simply from those of non-residents of the area — buses, residents’ vehicles, and cabs are all still running the streets.
The vehicle ban involves a “zone covering Madrid’s historic core as well as Gran Via, the blaring, multi-lane avenue that serves as the Spanish capital’s main drag and as a major through-route for crosstown traffic.”
Notably, the vehicles that are still on the roads in this area are all restricted to speeds of under 30 km/h (~18 mph).
City Lab provides more:
“The otherwise blanket ban in the throbbing, vehicle-packed heart of a major metropolis is one of the boldest anti-car plans seen in Europe so far. To get a loose idea of the scale in American terms, imagine banning all cars in Manhattan from driving south of 14th Street. …
“It’s not just that the holiday shopping season is in full swing in Spain’s busiest commercial district, making the place a whole lot more manageable for shoppers on foot. Spain also has two national holidays this week: Tuesday’s Constitution Day and Thursday’s Immaculate Conception Day. These make early December a classic choice for Spaniards who want to take a week off without squandering too much of their paid vacation allowance. As you’d expect, crowds in the streets are thicker than usual, while the area’s arterial roads tend to get more than a little snarled up. The temporary ban is likely to make the whole area… well, just nicer.”
Part of the reason that the ban is taking place in December is probably also due to the fact that that winter tends to be the worst time of the year for air pollution in the region, owing to the city’s plateau location and regional air circulation and weather patterns.
The ban is no doubt related in some way to the recent public commitment made by the mayor of Madrid at the C40 Summit to ban all diesel vehicles from the city by 2025 — partly as a means of reducing local air pollution, and partly as a means of cutting carbon emissions.
Other plans related to this include: the conversion of numerous streets and lanes to pedestrian traffic; the construction of car parks on the peripheries of the current “car-free” zone; and the introduction of a fleet of 2,000 electric city buses by 2020.
You can see pics of the car-free streets on City Lab.