Madrid Rio Project

Whilst in Madrid, my geeky interest in engineering combined with my self-preservation interest in not melting in the 30+ degree heat, drawing me to the Madrid Rio Project.

Back in the 70s, the M30 motorway was built right through Madrid. It followed the route of the Manzanares river, cutting off the two halves of the city from each other and leaving the river in a narrow, inaccessible channel between the carriageways. OK, you might think, that’s the sort of thing urban planners liked to do in the 60s and 70s. (You should see what they nearly did to Edinburgh! Motorways ploughing through the Meadows and crossing the east end of Princes Street on stilts. I’m not making this up). They’d never get away with it now, but the damage is already done… people might not like having six lanes of heavy traffic hammering along what could have been the city’s waterfront, but it’s there now and getting them to accept the traffic chaos that would be caused by getting rid of it would be a pretty hard sell.

Puente de Toledo crosses the new park

However, get rid of it they have. In a mammoth infrastructure project from about 2005-2008, the M30 was buried in Europe’s longest urban motorway tunnels, and the surface transformed into a 6km long linear park along the restored banks of the river. Although the cost was massive (I saw $3.9 billion just for the tunnels from one source and I can well believe it), the result has been a huge reduction in noise and pollution, improvements in road capacity and safety, and perhaps most importantly the replacement of a road that was a serious barrier and a blot on the landscape with open, welcoming green space, helping to join the city back together again.

New fountains at the Puente de Segovia

I heard about the project shortly before I went to Madrid and knew I had to go and see it. I have to say, it exceeded my expectations. The scale of the thing is amazing, there are all sorts of facilities from paths to open air bars to children’s play areas, and the whole area felt exceptionally clean and safe. Apart from a few air vents and some slip roads popping out of the ground in odd places, little evidence of the subterranean motorway is visible.

A sliproad disappearing into the ground gives a clue as to where the M30 has gone.

For hot days, though, the “City Beach” is a work of genious. There are shallow water pools with lovely, cooling fountains so when the temperatures start to get too much, you can go stand in the spray until you cool off again. It certainly made the afternoon sunshine a lot more bearable for a pale northerner such as myself.

So… why can’t they put the M8 through Glasgow underground and build a beach on top? (OK, don’t answer that 😉 ).

Puente de Segovia by night

Update: I’m in Madrid again now (1/12/2012), and this time it’s cool enough to actually walk the whole length of the Rio Project, so I did. Well, actually I don’t think I quite made it to the southern end – it wasn’t obvious where to go so it looks as if either they haven’t completed the whole thing as shown on the maps, or I was just being dumb and not noticing the continuation.

I’d already seen probably the most impressive bits, the parks centred on the two old bridges, but walking the whole thing does give a better idea of the sheer scale of it. The whole distance was nicely landscaped and seems to be quite heavily used even in the cooler weather. I also discovered that they haven’t completely buried the motorway – a section of the northbound carriageway is still on the surface where it passes the stadium, giving a good idea of what the whole thing must have been like before, and why they would’ve wanted to change it.