Returning the city of Madrid to the people (Spain)

By News Editor / Updated: 28 Jan 2015

The city of Madrid has developed its Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) which sets the overall objectives for the city to 2020. These objectives are about improving the environmental quality, economic competitiveness, road safety and the comprehensive character of the city's mobility model. The SUMP defines the city’s priorities, anticipates future scenarios, establishes concrete actions and indicates the necessary considerations for their enforcement.

The Plan’s ambition is to give the city back to the people, who lost it to vehicles. It will enable public transport to be more flexible and complete, and it will guarantee the enjoyment of more attractive and healthier streets that will promote active mobility. 


Madrid is southern Europe’s most, and the continent’s third-most, populated metropolis. Around 3.23 million people live in the city (5294.5 inhabitants per km²) and over 6.5 million live in its metropolitan area.

The city is known for its wide avenues and four major ring roads that are linked by a radial road network. But Madrid is also famous for its powerful public transport system: a 293-km subway network and nine commuter train lines with 89 stations that connect the metropolitan area to the city, in which there are 13 great transport interchanges. The urban bus network, with 200 lines travelling on routes totalling around 775 km, reaches areas the subway does not. The 1 560 electric bikes of the public bicycle system and car-sharing services provide further transport flexibility.

Forty-three per cent of the city’s overall space is intended for pedestrians; 42 per cent of citizens use public transport, 29 per cent walk and 29 per cent use private vehicles. In spite of the already positive modal split, the Madrid SUMP intends to further discourage the use of private cars in favour of PT and active modes in order to reduce negative impacts of car traffic and improve citizens’ quality of life.

In action 

The SUMP is based on the work carried out by Madrid’s Mobility Board, a participatory body that has created a vision of the sustainable mobility model for the city, which has been shared and agreed upon by its main actors (e.g. opposing political parties, unions, the Chamber of Commerce, resident associations and the Transport Authority).

In order to elaborate the Plan, an exhaustive diagnosis of the current mobility situation in Madrid was carried out, including supply and demand projections to 2020.

The Plan adopted the objectives of the Mobility Board based on this diagnosis, and taking the records and the strategic framework of the SUMP into consideration. The Mobility Board uses a participatory process for the qualitative analysis of both the diagnosis and the plan's strategic lines of action. This process enables the detection of weak spots in the system and the progression of feasibility and desirability of the potential measures.

The Plan established three main elements of focus:

  • Discouraging  less efficient mobility
  • Fostering  sustainable modes of transport
  • Improving the overall mobility system

Thanks to Madrid’s Mobility Status Report, an annual monitoring mechanism has been established. More in-depth evaluations will take place in 2017 and in 2020.


The Plan suggests 95 specific measures oriented to reach (by 2020) close to a six per cent reduction of traffic in the city in favour of pedestrian mobility, bicycle use and public transport.

Introducing a smart Regulated Parking Service (SER), improving of the cycle path network, creating alternative methods of car-parking and bus-only lanes, and introducing technological solutions to control access to traffic in loading and unloading areas are among the most prominent measures.

The SUMP will increase comfort for citizens and improve their quality of life by reducing car use. Madrid estimates that implementing the measures of the Plan will result in  3.2 million fewer kilometres being travelled by car per day, which corresponds to a reduction of 135 000 tons of CO2,  400 tons of NOx and 26 tons of PM2.5.

Madrid predicts that in 2020 it will need to accommodate around 130 000 extra journeys a day (a rise of 3.5 per cent). The Plan will allow this to be absorbed by sustainable ways of transport to prevent additional congestion in the city.

Measures to discourage private vehicle use and promote other ways to travel are expected to increase the share of public transport from 42 to 45 per cent. Active mobility, such as walking and cycling, will rise from 29 to 32 per cent. The use of private vehicles would consequently fall from 29 per cent of current daily journeys to 23 per cent.  

Challenges, opportunities and transferability 

This Plan presents important challenges such as designing a more local, humanised, social urban space for people to enjoy, in a vast metropolis that endures millions of daily journeys and that needs to stay accessible and economically efficient.

The specific challenges will be improving the environmental quality of the city and calming traffic while also guaranteeing a certain amount of private vehicle traffic by means of road regulation and organisation. Increasing the operating speed of public transport also represents a challenge, especially outside the M-30 (the orbital motorway circulating central districts of Madrid) and so does improving the efficiency of the distribution of urban goods.

But at the same time, city officials say that this Plan offers the opportunity to give space back to the citizens by maximizing the leisurely character of streets and squares, and the opportunity to increase the social and natural capital for citizens of Madrid, who wish to continue evolving and living in a healthy, efficient and comfortable city. 

In Depth 
Urban mobility planning
Southern Europe
Paz Valiente Calvo
Marco Valerio Salucci
07 Oct 2014
28 Jan 2015