"With the changes introduced in traffic, the Chamber intends to give more space to the circulation of pedestrians and rationalize the management of public roads, giving priority to public transport".
No, Fernando Medina was not the author of the sentence. It doesn't even date from 2020. It was the Mayor of Lisbon elected by a CDS / PSD coalition Nuno Kruz Abecassis, in 1984, when Rua Augusta closed to car traffic.
At that time, as now, the voices against did not delay: that commerce was going to die, that it was going to make life difficult for those who lived in Baixa, that cars were going to have more difficulty in driving, etc., etc. The arguments tend to be repeated …
I ask all Lisbon residents how many today are in favor of having car traffic return to Rua Augusta. Wasn't this a measure that only brought benefits? Isn't the trade full of people? Wasn't the beauty of the city, of Baixa Pombalina highlighted by this measure?
The Diário Popular of July 28, 1984, surrendered to change, made the following headline:
“Walking along Rua Augusta do Arco to Rossio without having to feel the“ bad neighborhood ”of cars racing in search of the green light or the irritating sound of horns when traffic is bottled up is no longer a dream. Rua Augusta no longer has cars. It's only been pedestrians since this morning. It was the reformulation of downtown traffic, the restoration of a small part of the city to those who live in it. A victory for man over the machine ”
Resistance to change is, paradoxically, a common attitude in human beings. Paradoxically, because without changes, the human species dies. Just as without change, cities die, as Baixa was slowly dying until very recently.
The revitalization of this area requires an urban rehabilitation that does not only deal with buildings, in which the public space is for the enjoyment of the citizen, whether Lisbon, Portuguese, foreigner, resident, passerby or tourist.
The concerns of the Chamber in 1984 focused on the use of spaces by citizens and the priority of public space. Times are different, the actors have changed, but the concerns remain the same, in addition to environmental concerns. It is not possible to continue with the habits and customs that are introducing more and more pollution, and the Chamber has to intervene firmly, in all areas over which it has jurisdiction.
It is not just today that we hear that Lisbon is one of the most polluted cities in Europe. Air quality is poor, and Avenida da Liberdade has worrying figures. Times do not match the palliatives applied to environmental problems, it is more than time to intervene.
Decreasing the use of private cars will decrease the concentration of particles. It is a simple equation, which we all understand, and whose solution is to adopt the measures recommended in the plan outlined by the Chamber, the ZER Avenida Baixa Chiado.
We know how difficult it is to reconcile contradictory interests, and that private interests often clash with general ones. We know it is not easy. The mayor has already started to listen to the population, who lives, who works and who visits. The interests of some cannot overlap with those of others, and we all have to accept that, perhaps, nobody wins or nobody loses, only the ways of living in this area are transformed. There are certainly adjustments to be made, aspects to be improved, and details only perceptible to those who live and work here, which, taken into account, can make all the difference. Before closing any plan, it is important to listen to the population. This plan now presented, was studied for more than a year by several specialized technicians, from various departments of the Lisbon City Council, and it is this base of work that is now presented for discussion and improvement.
This is an ambitious enough plan to radically transform the area. On the valley side of Avenida da Liberdade, the Public Promenade returns to the city, resumes the natural sense of traffic on the sides, and reinforces public transport, with the start of a career that will connect Marques de Pombal to Terreiro do Paço , served only by electric buses. With this, the quality of the air we all breathe gains, and which today presents excessive levels of pollution, measured by the existing sensors.
On the side of the Almirante Reis valley, the bike path extends to this part of the city, removes a traffic lane and widens the sidewalks. With these measures, a decrease in traffic and the consequent improvement in air quality is also expected.
Fernando Medina has already announced that he will implement a network of sensors that measure air quality, making it possible to know for sure what we all already know empirically: the quality of the air we breathe is not at all the best.
Benefiting public transport, Metro de Lisboa has already launched a tender for the purchase of 42 new coaches to reinforce the existing offer, which we all recognize as failures and shortcomings.
Car traffic in Baixa and Chiado is only possible for residents, electric cars, and public transport, buses, taxis and some tourist vehicles. It can be a way to intervene and discipline the excessive presence of these vehicles, and also take them to other parts of the city, with great historical interest and beauty, instead of concentrating all on the same point, as if the city were just Baixa , Alfama and the Castle. The tourist activity is important, but it is not unique, and your interests cannot override all others.
As well as the interests of vehicles operated through platforms, they must adapt to the common interest, not least because it is not possible for the Chamber to even know the universe of vehicles used in this activity, with the current instruments at its disposal.
Likewise, surface parking is only available to residents. It substantially alters the view of these streets, usually packed with parked cars, cutting off the prospects of those who want to appreciate the city.
Another problem that will be treated is the scourge of unruly charges and discharges, which cause all kinds of disorders. Traders can be an important help in drawing up an effective regulation for this activity, and together with the Chamber, find a way that will bring less inconvenience to everyone, traders and citizens.
The ZER Avenida Baixa Chiado also favors the use of bicycles, by extending the network of cycle paths and reducing traffic. Thinking about the use of these means, Emel will acquire another 1500 electric bicycles to reinforce the cute network.
Like what has already been done in other neighborhoods in the city, the pedestrianization of the streets will bring more people to the public space, it will increase trade, it will bring more security, it will return more city to citizens.
But we can and must go further, President Fernando Medina has already announced that this is a plan open to suggestions and changes, and that this is the ideal time to do so.
Listening to and responding to the proposals of the various people and entities is essential for this project to be successfully completed and in a way that the greatest possible number of citizens, traders, businessmen and tourists will benefit, as well as the city of Lisbon.
It is a bold plan, difficult to implement, but vital for the city to continue to be a reference both nationally and internationally. ”