August 1, 2021

“Special Envoy” in Pontevedra, the city where the pedestrian is king


A city without a car: more and more municipalities are dreaming of it. Pontevedra has taken action. “Special Envoy”, in his series “They change the world”, offers a dive into this pioneering Spanish city of 83,000 inhabitants, which has succeeded in “detoxifying” its inhabitants from the car. “At the beginning, it was hard, but in twenty years the quality of life has improved so much », testifies a resident.

In 1999, when Miguel Anxo Fernandez Lores stood for municipal elections, the city of Galicia was crippled by traffic. It offers residents the opportunity to make their city accessible to everyone, especially the most vulnerable: people with disabilities, seniors and children. To do this, the one who is still mayor of Pontevedra today, re-elected without stopping for more than twenty years, did not content himself with making a few streets pedestrian, planting trees here and there. He is developing a comprehensive project that really dissuades people from using their individual vehicles.

Transit in the city center was maintained, but severely restricted for motor vehicles, the parking spaces removed in favor of underground car parks (paying). The speed is limited to 20 km / h, and even 10 km / h in the historic center (where only vehicles of professionals, residents and disabled people are allowed to circulate). You cannot park for more than fifteen minutes. “You have to think backwards, confides a policeman, those who walk are the kings of public space. “

Urban revolution

Hence the other urban revolution: the establishment of huge “deterrent parking lots”, completely free for twenty-four hours. From one end of town to the other, you hardly have to walk more than half an hour, and the first free parking lot is always less than a quarter of an hour away on foot. Along the cobbled streets, signs – the meters – display, like a metro map, the distances and walking time between different places in the city center.

In the historic center, the sidewalks have been removed, in favor of a roadway without urban obstacles. Benches have been installed, green spaces and children’s play areas created. The rest of the city has been embellished with landscaping, widened sidewalks, elevated pedestrian crossings. Two-way streets have disappeared. Notable and radical measure: to protect small businesses, shopping centers on the outskirts have been banned.

Today, 70% of city trips are made on foot. And CO emissions2 fell by 60%. “Pontevedra is proof that a relatively large city can live almost without a car or public transport, favoring walking and soft modes”, notes Sonia Lavadinho, specialist in sustainable mobility at the Transport Center of the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (Switzerland). Of course, this pedestrianization did not happen overnight, nor without disputes, especially among traders. But today no one wants to go back. In this Atlantic region which is emptying of its citizens, Pontevedra has even gained new inhabitants.

The city without a car, report by Raphaële Schapira, Katia Pinzon, Marielle Krouk for “Special Envoy” (Fr., 2020, 22 min).