Joy through Safety

The city of Torrejón de Ardoz achieved an impressive road safety statistic with a series of simple yet effective measures. The city has not had a traffic fatality in seven years. To recognize this, the city has been awarded the DEKRA Vision Zero Award.

160 cameras at busy intersections and important squares are part of the security concept of the city. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli

160 cameras at busy intersections and important locations are part of the city’s safety concept. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli

It’s just before twelve on a Thursday night, and an impromptu game of football is taking place on the Plaza Mayor in Torrejón de Ardoz. The spire of the Parroquia De San Juan towers above the city’s children as they kick around a threadbare-looking ball. Elderly residents watch on from their benches, while parents and friends relax at the bars that surround the square. The large pedestrianized plaza is flanked by drab buildings from recent decades, and austere-looking shops selling discounted clothing can be seen in the passageways leading away from the square. One would be hard-pressed to spend more than 5 euros on a garment at any of these stores. Despite appearances, the Plaza Mayor is the pulsing heart of this city of 132,000, located in the greater Madrid area. It is at night that this heart beats loudest. As the scorching heat of the day fades into the night, the city – formerly derided as “Torrebronx” by the people of Madrid – bursts into life. Once a dormitory town built around a US airbase in the 1950s, Torrejón expanded too rapidly in the 70s and 80s. With this unchecked growth came violence and crime.

A Holistic Concept

For the last decade, the city authorities have been actively battling its dark side, helping its residents feel safer, and promoting Torrejón as a place to enjoy life rather than a place to merely sleep. The pillar on the edge of the plaza is almost symbolic of this transformation. Adorned with the words “Policia Local”, it can be seen from all around. As can the red button. Once pressed, it immediately connects you to the switchboard of the local police force. Only 100 meters from the emergency call point – at the other end of the Plaza Mayor – is the town hall. In 2007, conservative politician Pedro Rollán was elected Mayor of Torrejón. The topic of safety has been of utmost priority ever since.

In 2015, Rollán was succeeded by Ignácio Vázquez Casavilla. The dashing 41-year-old has picked up where his predecessor left off, and is a driving force behind the changes happening in this city. It is now Friday morning, and the lobby area of his office is a hive of activity. The mayor remains calm. Sporting jeans and a blue shirt, the top button left open, he enthuses about the city in which he was raised; the city for which he stands. At his side is Third Mayor Carla Picazo Navas and City Councilor Dolores Navarro Ruiz. She speaks for all three when she says: “The Vision Zero Award came as a big surprise. Of course we are proud of our seven years without a road fatality, but we didn’t know that this was a special achievement.” They are proud of the change that the city has achieved over the last decade. Vázquez Casavilla sees the city’s traffic concept as part of the city’s focus on security. “Torrejón had the dubious honor of leading crime statistics, but now we’re the safest city,” he says. “We have twice as many police in action as we did then, cameras monitor the city’s main arteries, and implementing these measures has had a knock-on effect on road safety.”

Various protective measures: fencing of the sidewalks, clearly marked pedestrian crossings and cycle paths. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli

Various protective measures: fenced-off sidewalks, clearly-marked pedestrian crossings and cycle paths. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli

So, just as the Plaza Mayor represents the beating heart of the city, it is the central police station that keeps the rest of the “body” running. It is only a few minutes’ walk from the town hall. Inside, a large video-wall optionally displays feeds from cameras monitoring the flow of traffic, specific locations, or the 40 emergency call points. Once somebody presses the red button, the video wall immediately switches to a real-time feed of the person making the call. Generally it is due to a bag being snatched, or a fight breaking out.

The traffic is monitored from here too. There are 160 cameras streaming information back to the nerve center. Service Manager Rafael Gutierrez Sanchez changes the video feed to display images of the city’s new roundabouts – entirely flat, without raised centers, plants or fountains. It isn’t just a cost-cutting measure – it’s also safer, as he explains: “Entering the roundabout too quickly will no longer result in the driver crashing into an obstacle in the middle.” The police have identified a series of so-called “accident blackspots” across the city – places where there are especially high numbers of incidents. These were made top priority when defining safety measures. Mayor Vázquez Casavilla also names pedestrian crossings high on his list of priorities. These have been made safer by raising sections of the road surface. This has been carried out in hundreds of locations in recent years, after repeated demands from residents in the Mayor’s office hours. Casavilla states: “As a pedestrian, you’re thankful for the humps. As a driver, you’re cursing them. But safety must come first.”

Thresholds force the slow approach to the crosswalk. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli Illuminated traffic signs increase the attention. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli New, flattened roundabouts are among the city's protective measures. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli In order to be able to hand in a message to the police in an emergency, there are around 40 emergency telephones in the city. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli City Councilor Dolores Navarro Ruiz has received the DEKRA Vision Zero Award at the end of 2017 and is proud of the city's development. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli

Dialog with Residents

As such, the ensuing “traffic sightseeing tour” through the city in a patrol car is somewhat of a bumpy experience – there are a great many crosswalks in Torrejón. There are more and more roundabouts too. This is the second stage of the city’s safety concept. One example can be found outside the Torrejón public pool. The reason that planners have opted for roundabouts rather than traffic lights can be seen here: Drivers apply the brakes and enter the intersection cautiously. So that no pedestrian may take a shortcut across the roundabout, barriers separate the sidewalk from the road. Only via the designated crosswalk can pedestrians cross the road. The patrol car tour continues into an industrial area. The roads run straight as an arrow for kilometers – ideal for drag racing, if it weren’t for the roundabouts and road humps. The new street and path lighting represent stage three of the region’s safety program, and lend a previously hostile-looking area a new face. By night, one could even say an attractive one.

All of these construction measures would only be half as effective if it weren’t for the people that abide by the rules and play their part. The Torrejón city administration involves residents in its planning consultations, and because the city’s future will be in the hands of its children, road safety education is provided at schools from an early age. The education program has been in place for 30 years, which is completed by 5,500 children each year for their various age brackets. The social highlight of the year is the awards ceremony for the best drawings and pictures that arise from the courses. It is associated with lifelong memories, as a seven-year-old explains: “We were able to ride in a police car through the city. It was great!” There’s no better way to teach safety. Torrejón de Ardoz has found a way to make road safety education almost as much fun as a kickabout on the Plaza Mayor.

The safety measures implemented in the city have also been well-received by residents:

Petronela and daughter Victoria: "The city has changed, that's good, I feel safe, I'm very careful that my daughter is behaving properly in traffic - she learned that in school too." Photo: Cesar Dezfuli

Petronela and daughter Victoria. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli

 

 

 

“The city has changed for the better. I feel safe. I keep a close eye to make sure that my daughter acts safely in road situations – she also learned how to do so in school.”

 

 

 

 

Antonio and Anna: "The sidewalks are now wider, that's good, and there are thresholds at pedestrian crossings and lighting, so not so many accidents are happening now, we feel safer, also because of the police presence." Photo: Cesar Dezfuli

Antonio and Anna. Photo: Cesar Dezfuli

 

 

 

“The sidewalks are wider now. That’s good. And the road is raised for pedestrian crossings, and there is lighting too. Not many accidents happen there any more. We feel safer, also because of the police presence.”

 

 

 

 

 

3 Questions for Yvonne Rauh, Deputy Chief Country Officer, DEKRA Spain

Yvonne Rauh, Deputy Chief Country Officer, DEKRA Spain. Photo: DEKRA

Yvonne Rauh, Deputy Chief Country Officer, DEKRA Spain. Photo: DEKRA

How was Torrejón selected?

The selection was solely based on statistics, and Torrejón was the best of comparable European ­cities, with seven consecutive years of no traffic fatalities.

How do you view the work undertaken by the Torrejón City Council towards road safety?

For years, Torrejón has placed great value on the protection of both residents and the environment. This explains why so much has been done to prevent road casualties.

Is this effort publicly recognized outside of Torrejón?

Sadly not as much as it perhaps should be. The city’s measures to ensure better traffic safety deserve to be replicated elsewhere.

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