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Why Spain's cities have to become more pedestrian and bike-friendly in 2024

The Local Spain
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Why Spain's cities have to become more pedestrian and bike-friendly in 2024
Spanish city mayors must have carried out "at least" 25 percent of their proposed projects during the fourth quarter of 2023. (Photo by Lluis GENE / AFP)

Municipalities across Spain will have to become more sustainable with the creation of pedestrianised streets and more bike lanes by the end of 2024 or face losing millions of euros in EU recovery funds.


The mayors of cities in almost 400 Spanish municipalities, the largest ones with more than 50,000 inhabitants, will be forced to take a look at mobility in 2024 and create more sustainable options.

In the last two years, the government has distributed €1.5 billion of EU recovery funds to cities around the country for various reasons, among them to pedestrianise streets, create bike lanes and restrict traffic in the so-called low-emission zones (called ZBEs in Spain).

What's the issue?

Town and city councils have been slow to use this money and there have been many delays. For example, in Badalona (Catalonia), there have been interruptions in creating low-emission zones, which are still not complete, and in Elche, Valencia they have even reversed their decision to create bike lanes.

If at the end of 2024, 25 percent of the works promised have not been executed, town councils must return the money they received for this purpose.

The deadline and economic penalty are part of the strict rules imposed by the EU to guarantee that the subsidies from the Recovery and Resilience Fund - €70 billion in total - are used for the purposes for which they were granted.

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When is the deadline?

In the case of sustainable urban mobility, the regulations require that "the actions must be effectively implemented and operational before December 2024”.

In reality, city mayors must have carried out "at least" 25 percent of their proposed projects during the fourth quarter of 2023, but the year 2024 will be key for the European subsidy control system.

“The period of material execution of the actions, as well as the real and effective payments, will be between February 1st, 2020 and December 31, 2024. Failure to execute these in a time that is not duly justified will result in " the loss of the subsidy and the obligation to reimburse the amounts already received," the Ministry of Transport said in 2021 in the first Ministerial Order it published on European aid for sustainable mobility.

READ ALSO: Ten of the most amazing bike routes in Spain

The regulations contemplate the possibility of granting a one-year extension as long as it is "duly justified" and sets the end of 2025 as the time when at least 280 low-emission zones and urban transport transformation projects must be completed.

But 2024 will mark the first mandatory goal for mayors and town councils to offer real results and demonstrate that the million-dollar subsidies they have received are being used in the correct ways.


Many cities failed to meet the deadline for low-emission zones

The majority of municipalities failed to comply with the first major deadline of the Climate Change Law, which said that before 2023 they must create low-emission zones. 151 cities were obliged to do so, but in January of last year, only a little more than a dozen had done.

By December 2023, the number of cities with a ZBE already in operation was 21, only eight more than twelve months earlier.

READ ALSO: Which towns and cities have low-emission zones?

Act now or return the money

In 2024, many councils may have to return part of the €1.5 billion funds that the Ministry of Transport distributed between 2021 and 2022, which were earmarked not only for low-emission zones, but also the creation of bike lanes, pedestrianising streets and buying electric buses.

The first €1 billion went to 125 municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, 62 with 50,000 and 20,000 and 14 municipal groups. In total, 1,154 plans were supposed to be financed, building more than 500 kilometres of bike lanes, improving another 500km that already exist, pedestrianising streets, creating more than 50 bicycle rental systems, purchasing 659 zero-emission buses and 45 electric garbage trucks, as well as setting up 62 low-emission zones and creating 27 park and ride facilities.

Other subsequent projects were due to be financed with the remaining €500 million.

According to the rules, the subsidy that each municipality would receive could not be higher than €45, €30 or €20 per inhabitant, depending on its size, and the maximum amount could not exceed 40 million per request.

Although, in principle, the money would not be given out until the work was completed, town councils were given the possibility of requesting advances of up to 100 percent of the allocated amount.

Many chose this option, meaning that if they don’t meet the deadlines by the end of the year they’ll be forced to return the money, which is already part of the municipal coffers.


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