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Cities in constant tranformation
Farmers’ market Mercado Productores-Planetario, Sunday March 7. More info at http://productoresplanetario.es/
Come walk the Camino! Walking the end of Spain’s thousand-year-old pilgrimage route across northern Spain is a fabulous experience – and 2021 is Holy Year, which makes it even more special. DATE CHANGE! Now in September instead of June. Get more info at http://www.apinderinspain.com/road-of-st-james-el-camino
Photo ID: above is the Camino on a spring day in north-central Spain (east of our trip). The yellow flowering crop is rapeseed, used for oil of same name - which is also called canola oil, with some qualifications on those terms depending on country of use).
Cities are in constant transformation and re-invention. Madrid is no exception.
Locals know central Madrid is in the middle of a mega project: remodeling the Plaza de España. I have not studied the final project and they still have a ways to finalization, but the initial ideas I did see were solid: more pedestrian space, a kids’ playground, improve accessibility for people with mobility issues. AND! They want to improve pedestrian connections from Jardin de Sabatini to Plaza de España to nearby Parque Oeste – really just a few blocks away, but up to now separated by a wide street with insufficient and badly placed crosswalks, a design thinking car mobility, not human mobility. They also want to improve connections from Plaza de España to Madrid Rio, not too far away but along the really pedestrian-unfriendly street Cuesta San Vicente.
That all sounds wonderful, and as a pedestrian I am looking forward to seeing what this looks like. In the meantime, the area is a huge mess, with heavy equipment all over what used to be the intersection Cuesta San Vicente – Bailen; that is on one of my city walking routes so it messes up my shortcut across the square and my previous connection to Parque Oeste but it also lets me spy on the progress of the project and try to figure out what they’re doing, especially for traffic.
Locals know there used to be a bridge from Bailen to Ferraz and traffic from Cuesta de San Vicente went under that bridge to reach Plaza de España. My first guess for reorganizing that intersection and making the area more pedestrian friendly was that the Bailen tunnel would be extended all the way to Ferraz. But….. when they dug up Bailen at the end of the tunnel some archaeological remains appeared, the basement of a nearby building that was partly torn down and rebuilt to widen Bailen (locals: the brick building on the corner of calle Torija, in front of Sabatini gardens). It looks like they’re going to try to keep those remains, which leaves only one lane for Bailen, which is not enough to carry all the traffic that used to flow from there to calle Ferraz. A mystery what will happen to Bailén – stay tuned. (did read something about a “new tunnel” from Ferraz to calle Mayor, but unclear exactly what that means?)
One interesting thing about that mystery is that the Bailen-Ferraz and Cuesta San Vicente used to look very different (see the black and white photo from around 1960. street on right side of the photo is Bailen, now dug down under overpass. Cuesta San Vicente out of photo on the left). They did some major digging at that intersection for the bridge /underpass intersection to work, dropping the underpass three meters so the bridge wouldn’t be so noticeable next to the Royal Palace. That was early 1970’s, in full roar of making Madrid more car friendly: eight overpasses were built between 1968 and 1972. Four have been closed or dismantled – Plaza de España is the fifth*.
While City Hall idea was to improve the traffic, the overpasses (called scalextrics in Madrid-lingo) did exactly the opposite, as well as being an eyesore and making pedestrian transit more difficult. Being of a somewhat cynical nature when it comes to official decision-making in that time frame, I cannot help wondering about money, politician brothers-in-law (etc) with construction firms, as well as a desire to make Madrid look like a modern city, which it most definitely was not. And of course, most of the people who had cars back then were people with money and influence, so decision-makers were more than happy to make those people happy.
Ooops. Not supposed to talk about politics, right? Sorry! Those not in the know: this was towards the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, as money started to flow into the country from tourism and USA funding in return for military bases. In this same period, young “technocrats” started participating in the government instead of just the musty old guard.
Anyway. So rebuilding that intersection can be considered to be repair work for past mistakes, or at very least, a change in philosophy about cars and pedestrians in a modern city – it’s interesting to see that the overpasses have been dismantled and replaced by tunnels, a more expensive option but with considerably less visual impact.
The entire Plaza de España project fits in with other recent projects like Madrid Rio, bike lanes and BiciMadrid bike rental and Madrid Central traffic restrictions (now under discussion since current right-leaning government doesn’t like what previous left-leaning government did, another ooops comment).
And yes, it part of a general tendency now as cities are trying to be more pedestrian-friendly and improve air quality. After all, cities are for people living in closer proximity, cars are just an add-on and possible convenience - or inconvenience for city living.
But for now: Plaza de España remains a construction area. Supposedly it will be finished or almost finished by summer. Here’s hoping that really happens.
More info on Plaza de España project: https://www.madridproyecta.es/reforma-plaza-de-espana/#:~:text=Las%20obras%20comenzaron%20en%20mayo,los%20imprevistos%20de%20las%20obras.
*Trivia seekers, list of Madrid’s eight overpasses with their respective lifespans. Source: https://madridmobilite.com/2014/11/25/%EF%BB%BFlos-pasos-elevados-de-madrid-unas-infraestructuras-que-perduran/
Atocha 1968 – 1985
Cuatro Caminos 1969 – 2004
Joaquín Costa 1970 - 2020
Juan Bravo 1970 – continues
Raimundo Fdz. Vilaverde 1970 – continues
Santa Maria de la Cabeza 1971 – 2001
Plaza de España 1972 – 2020
Pedro Bosch 1972 - continues