Some numbers about Madrid (3)

What is the use for an automobile? This seemingly simple question, whose answer seems evident, lies at the base of a relevant part of the debate on urban planning in many countries, even if it is almost never asked in those terms.

We own a car, used essentially for out of city travel; I am lucky to live near the center of Madrid, at just half an hour’s walk from my job, so I walk nearly all days. It’s faster and way cheaper than to use a car or even public transit (which is common for such short distances). Sometimes we use our car to go to peripheral big box retailers, but most of our food is bought in the neighborhood, and for more specialized items we usually at least browse the central Madrid stores, a convenient collateral of working in the area.

Sometimes I use my car to get to working meetings in places in which there is no convenient public transportation link, but I usually prefer to take a train or a bus, because travel time is better and I can work during the journey, something quite useful to manage my working time.

But not everyone does things as I do. The car is quite used in metropolitan Madrid. A sprawling growth pattern for housing and jobs contributes to that. Even if the classical planning theory says that there should be a balance between jobs and working age population in all municipalities, this goal is hard to attain when contracts are not kept for long times, a growing issue these days. Besides, shopping systematically in big box peripheral retail centers also increases the car traffic. On the other side, a sizeable group of citizens prefers their cars to public transit to avoid lengthy transfer times, or simply to avoid “smelling the sweat” of other travelers.

Madrid municipal statistics show that in 2010 there were 2.541.000 vehicles on the street on an average day (a bit more in june, but 25% less in august). Most of this traffic (nearly 20%) concentrates between the M30/Calle 30 Beltway and the inner avenues subject to traffic lights. The average speed is on the whole 24,16 km/h (less than half in the older part of the city, up to 67 km/h on beltways).

Average daily intensity of traffic in central Madrid, by streets

Average daily speed in Madrid, by street

Vehicles paying local taxes in 2010 were some 1.740.000 in Madrid (some 2 citizens per car), 78% of which were cars. Using cadastral data there are 0,93 cars per housing unit as a municipal average, with lesser values in the scope of the Proyecto Madrid Centro, while in 2005 New York (but for central Manhattan) had 0,59 cars per dwelling, and París’s 2006 figure was 0,47.

Cars by 1000 habitants in Madrid and the surrounding municipalities in 2010

Cars per household in the parisian region in 2006

Cars in all existing housing in New York (excluding central Manhattan)

During that year 865.000 cars used public parking. In the streets subject to park meters the average parking spot was used by two cars a day, each staying less than an hour.

In 2010 road accidents killed 34 and injured 11.744 in Madrid.

Also in 2010, municipal buses moved 439 million people, and the subway moved 632 million. Long and mid distance train stations were used by 21 million, and 300 million metropolitan train stations (nearly half used Atocha station). Some 50 million used Barajas Airport.

The relation with the car varies from country to country, but essential issues defining it include urban pattern, availability of alternative transportation, available income and normative framework. Cities in emerging countries as Mumbai have car ownership rates much lower than in Europe or North America, but they are growing; and even with such low car ownership rates vehicles can be a nuisance, as the citizen group Casablaklaxoon shows in Casablanca (Morocco).

The requirement for parking inside buildings is still enforced in central Madrid, while in central Manhattan there is a less straining specific rule since 1982.

How do you use your car?

Some links:

Madrid municipal statistics on mobility:–Transportes-y-Comunicaciones?vgnextfmt=detNavegacion&vgnextchannel=f205c6bfec025210VgnVCM2000000c205a0aRCRD

New York Residential parking study:

Paris car ownership study:


Large Metropolitan Areas

Large metropolitan areas are the most complex stage of the urban phenomenon. When these cities are also the political and/or economic capitals of their countries, their functions become even more complex.

The overlay of highway infrastructures is the most present layer of the future configuration of public spaces and the visibility of the urban landscape, regardless of its qualities. Public transportation using often tunnels, the urban freeways create the true face of the metropolis.

The urban insertion of these road systems can be done with different degrees of success. Cutting traffic on the riverside embankments of Paris seems a simple solution; reclaiming the Manzanares embankment in Madrid by burying the M30 traffic means a huge cost, but brings back a quality public space that has become a clear public success. The Mumbai sea link proposed roads seem similar in concept to what was the M30 beltway in Madrid five decades ago: relocating an infrastructure problem in a public domain, solving the mobility flux with a strong impact on the environment and the landscape.

The urban quality of these spaces comes also from their ability to integrate open spaces and landscape features : rivers, large parks, sea shores, beaches… the presence of several uses on the elements that by themselves are transit ways is one of the main issues.

The hierarchic structure of the city is also relevant in metropolitan areas. The territory is never isotropic, and even if the urban theory is always devising polycentric structures that can often work, the most usual is to see a strong central core. The experience of many American cities, where this core has been depleted over time by the translation of functions to the suburbs, shows that urban quality can suffer when the center cannot hold. The historical cores that where almost the whole city a century ago are today just a small part of the population and a shrinking proportion of economic activity, but they still have a strong symbolic role.

The dynamics of the urban core, even if it keeps a relevant strength, can have a negative impact on population. The role of the core as a symbol can increase the presence of large public facilities or corporate headquarters, usually reducing the local scale public facilities and services for the area inhabitants, that can feel they have better chances in the suburbs.