Slow-moving traffic on the A-7 at the tunnel in San Pedro Alcántara. :: JOSELE-LANZA
The vast number of tourists who come to Marbella in August not only has an effect on beaches, hotels, restaurants, bars and discotheques, but also on the traffic, which increases considerably. In addition to the normal journeys made by local residents, the roads are busy with tourists’ vehicles and this results in congestion at the exits to Marbella, San Pedro Alcántara and Puerto Banús from the A-7 and slow-moving traffic in the urban centres.
The situation is also exacerbated by the numbers of drivers who go round and round the streets, trying to find a parking space. Until the new Francisco Norte car park in the centre of Marbella opens, the parking facilities this summer are proving inadequate, as Alberto Fernández knows well.
He has come from Ronda and is waiting patiently in the queue that has built up in Calle Carlos Macintosh, parallel to the Alameda park, the only way in to the Avenida del Mar car park, which is in one of the best locations because of its proximity to the seafront and the historic town centre.
“It’s always the same. This street is a rat trap. When the car park is full, the drivers stop their cars and wait until somebody comes out, instead of moving on. Then you get queues like this one,” he says.
The situation often gets serious when the queue stretches back as far as Ricardo Soriano, the avenue from which drivers enter and leave Carlos Macintosh, which is used by drivers changing direction as well as being the access road to the busy 428-space car park. The car park is particularly in demand between 12 noon and 3pm (when people go to the beach and eat in the town centre) and again between 8pm and midnight (when the sun goes down and the terraces of cafés and bars in the area fill up).
These days, it is no longer usual for visitors to take a taxi when they go to other towns or on excursions in the area. They either rent a vehicle or drive their own to their holiday destination so they can use it during their stay; this is becoming more common, particularly with Arab visitors who take their cars on the ferry and disembark in Algeciras port. Sources at the Sixt company, which hires out top-range vehicles and has offices at the airport and at Malaga railway station, confirm that more and more tourists are now renting cars when they come to the Costa del Sol for a summer holiday. In fact, they estimate that business this season has risen by 15 per cent per month.
Marbella attracts a large number of these visitors and is also on the route for people who are heading to cross the Straits of Gibraltar to north Africa. At times, the volume of traffic causes delays along the A-7 all the way from Calahonda, in Mijas Costa. The worst time is mainly on weekdays at mid-morning, when the road is used by tourists, residents from the numerous residential developments who are going to the beach and freight lorries. In the other direction, heading towards Malaga, traffic is normally slow at lunchtime.
“It is not unusual for drivers on the A-7 near La Cañada shopping centre to have to put their emergency warning lights on because of the huge amount of traffic leaving Marbella at that time,” explains Lucía Vivas who goes every day to have lunch at her aunt’s house in Las Chapas.
OSP (San Pedro) councillor Rafael Piña says there is another reason for traffic on the dual carriageway having to slow down. “Many of the residential developments are not connected to any others, even though connecting roads are included in the Urban Plan,” he says. This means that people who live in residential complexes have no choice but to use the A-7, even if they are only travelling a short distance to the next development.
But within the town centre, which streets are most affected by the increased traffic flow in summer? According to the latest surveys carried out by Marbella Town Hall at different times, the east-west link, and the corridor formed by Avenida Ricardo Soriano, Ramón y Cajal and Severo Ochoa are the worst hit. The volume of traffic in this area intensifies from nine o’clock in the morning and remains high all day with some slight variations and with peaks between 12 noon and 2pm. Town Hall sources say that in the summer the traffic on this road, which is normally used by an average of 30,000 vehicles a day, intensifies by about 20 per cent.
Tunnel and tolls
The major project which involved building a tunnel on the A-7 and widening the road at the accesses to San Pedro centre and Ronda, or for drivers who are changing direction towards Marbella, Estepona or the beach, has proven insufficient to absorb the volume of traffic, especially if an important event is taking place.
On 1st August, an electronic music party with French DJ David Guetta attracted 12,000 people from all over the region to the municipal stadium in San Pedro. That night, the queue to reach the stadium three hours before the concert began was four kilometres long, stretching from the area near the stadium to the exit from the tunnel at Nagüeles. A trip which under normal conditions would usually take less than three minutes, took the fans nearly half an hour.
The accesses to Puerto Banús are not much better, as Alejandro Guerrero, who works in one of the industrial units in that area, confirms. “Queues like the ones we have had this summer haven’t been seen for years,” he says.
For the president of the Tourism Initiatives Centre (CIT), Juan José González, the traffic problems during the peak tourist season are an unavoidable “toll” for a tourist destination like Marbella. However, he is calling for a “political decision” to be made to revise the high cost of the toll motorway, because drivers are refusing to use it and are using the N-340 instead, at a time when traffic in the area is at its busiest.
He does admit that the access roads “are as they are”, and that “we should widen them or improve them, otherwise no matter how much traffic we can move onto the toll motorway, the congestion problem still won’t be solved. We all know that entering Puerto Banús, once you have left the N-340, is a real pain.”
For Daniel González, who lives in Marbella but regularly travels to Malaga, the toll charges on the AP-7 in the holiday season are ridiculously high. “We shouldn’t have to pay 15 euros in tolls just because it’s summer,” he complains. The stretch between Marbella and Fuengirola costs 7.45 euros; the Marbella to Estepona stretch is 5.05 euros, while between Marbella and San Pedro, or San Pedro to Estepona, it costs 2.90 euros.