Traffic jam in Palma. | Alejandro Sepúlveda

"Adding lanes to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity." The quote is 68 years old, the words of an urban planning specialist, Lewis Mumford.

A contemporary urban planner, Carlos Moreno, has used it in responding to the Council of Mallorca's plan to add additional lanes on two sections of the Via Cintura in Palma.

Internationally known for having developed the idea of the 15-minute city - dense and diverse neighbourhoods in which buildings have different uses and the demand for mobility is reduced because all services are a quarter of an hour away from home - Moreno believes that the Council will be making "a serious error". "In these times aggravated by the climate emergency, which this summer has been the most serious in modern history, it is a serious error to believe that the definitive solution to problems of traffic jams and congestion lies with more lanes, more roads and more routes."

Advisor to the mayor of Paris, Moreno refers to the "fallacy of induced supply". "When more roads are built or existing ones are expanded to solve the problem of congestion, initially there may be an improvement in the traffic flow. However, over time, these wider or new roads encourage more people to use cars, as they perceive that traffic conditions have improved. Consequently, the number of vehicles on the road increases again, leading once more to congestion."

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Joana Maria Seguí Pons, professor of geography at the University of the Balearic Islands and director of the Balearics Interdisciplinary Mobility Observatory, agrees that expanding roads results in more vehicles in the medium term. "We have a general problem of volume, and that cannot be solved by tarmacking all of Mallorca. In recent years, the population has grown by 70% and the number of vehicles by 65%. Traffic in Mallorca increases between 10 and 15% every year and there are sections of the Via Cintura through which up to 200,000 vehicles pass daily."

A specialist in sustainable mobility, Juan Antonio Lobón, says that the main problem is the excessive dependence on private cars in the Palma metropolitan area; above all, on the Via Cintura. He points out that Llucmajor has gone from having 14,000 vehicles in 1996 to more than 34,000 in 2022; Campos from 5,000 to 12,000; Santanyi also has twice as many vehicles. For Lobón, adding lanes to the Via Cintura would produce the 'bottleneck' effect, with accesses to Palma grinding to a halt.

Seguí Pons recognises that there is no single or magic remedy but argues that there is an urgent need for establishing policies that enhance public transport and reduce the dependence on cars. "And we must also raise awareness as citizens, asking ourselves, for example, if it is necessary to use the car to take the kids to school." Investment in local businesses versus driving to out-of-town shopping centres; staggering schedules; walking routes for schools; healthy routes for older people. "These are initiatives that can help to change the model."

She cites the case of Amsterdam, a city of sustainable mobility. "It hasn't always been a bicycle paradise. In the 1970s it was full of cars until the first great oil crisis led to proposals for the active mobility that we know now."

Moreno stresses that the problem goes beyond opening or closing roads. "The solution is not to build more roads but to reconsider and redesign our cities and our transport systems to reduce dependence on cars. The question we must ask ourselves is what city we want to live in and how we can reduce necessary journeys."