Introducing the City That Prioritizes Pedestrians

This city is almost car-free.

Introducing the City That Prioritizes Pedestrians | This city is almost car-free.

Pontevedra, in north-west Spain, gives pedestrians priority on city streets. With a population of 80,000 , the local government has spent decades redesigning the city so that it is walkable and the results show, reported Euro News.  So much so that In 2014, Pontevedra was named one of the best places to live.

“Everything here is pretty close,” Elena Herroro, who moved to the city from Madrid, told Euro News. “I have the health center almost behind my house, the hospital is also close by, I have several supermarkets right under my apartment. So nothing essential is far away.”

The city’s pedestrian friendly layout has attracted local businesses and shops. And restaurants are flourishing. That’s because the streets are perfect for strolling and shopping.

“Every city has its main commercial street, an artery that defines its character," said city councilor César Mosquera. “If you pedestrianize it or make it pedestrian-friendly, you are transmitting an image: what's modern, what's cool, what's contemporary.” He said that restricting cars does just that.

Getting started
The first area to be closed off to cars was the old town in Pontevedra which was transformed in 1999. That’s because in the 1990s, the city was choked by traffic, according to Politico. Over 80,000 people drove through the city center every day.

“This city was basically a giant warehouse for cars, full of private vehicles that filled our public space, generated noise and emissions, and stopped our citizens — especially children and the elderly — from having true autonomy in the place in which they lived,” Pontevedra's mayor Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores told Politico. In fact, he ran for office on a platform making the city car-free more than 20 years ago.

The first changes included eliminating all on street parking.  Through traffic was redirected and commuters had to park in designated lots in the periphery of the city. The cars that could still access the city center to make deliveries, drop-offs and picked-ups had a time limit and a 20 or 30 kilometer and hour speed limit

The benefits of going car-free include more than just a pleasant walking experience. “Not only have we not had a single road-related death in over a decade, but air pollution has been reduced by 67 percent and our overall quality of life in the city has dramatically improved,” the mayor said. Since the switch, 15,000 people have moved to the city.

Rediscovering the city’s charm
Now that the city is open to pedestrians, many are experiencing its charm. The city council created the Metrominuto map that looks similar to a subway map. Journey times are listed only via walking.

“It helps,” tourist Anxo Patiño told Euro News “It encourages you to discover the old districts of a city like Pontevedra by foot, strolling and enjoying every corner.”

Public spaces have been completely redesigned, reported Smart Cities Dive, sidewalks were replaced by open spaces with benches and green areas. The city also installed lighting in darker areas that adapt to human movement and the warmer colors used to not create light pollution.

The local government also created Pasominuto, a transportation program based on the health benefits of walking and includes the number of steps and calories used by the distances traveled. Counting steps has never been easier.

While other European cities like Brussels, London, and Paris, have made strides in building bike-paths and making more pedestrian space during the pandemic.  But no city has done as much as Pontevedra. Going car-free will improve the quality of life and health for city residents around the globe, as well as the health of the planet.  Every city should follow in Pontevedra’s footsteps.

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