Which province of Spain has the highest number of vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants? The interior ministry's department of traffic defines the Balearic Islands as a province, and the answer is the Balearics. The number, according to figures for 2014, is 821. They aren't all cars but the percentage which are exceeds 70%. As a means of comparison, this is a higher percentage of cars than that for Gran Canaria (Las Palmas), Tenerife (Santa Cruz), Malaga and Barcelona.
This first position for the Balearics has remained unchanged for years. In 2001, for instance, the number per 1,000 inhabitants was higher - 901. But the population has increased by more than 200,000 since then. (Crisis also intervened.) For years, therefore, the vehicle population of the Balearic Islands has been the densest in the country.
For the Balearics to have such high vehicle density can seem extraordinary if one thinks back fifty or sixty years. Car ownership was not great. Nor was car choice. Spain's emergence from its basket-case status of the 1950s owed a fair deal to the production of Seats, especially the 600. It may have taken time for car ownership to become massive, but car production and tourism as drivers of Spain's economic "miracle" say a great deal about where that miracle now is and also about their current-day relationship.
Back in the days of the first tourism boom, when cars were relatively scarce, parking was not of any great concern. It may seem that drivers in Mallorca continue to park wherever the fancy takes them, but in those days the fancy mattered little. It is worth bearing in mind that the advance in road use was such that it wasn't until 1976 that traffic management needs suggested that a roundabout might come in useful. And so the first one was created in Palmanova.
But while road layouts and new roads began to become concerns, parking was left in the low gear of the resort layouts of the 1960s and 1970s. There have of course been changes since then - car parking areas have been introduced when once they wouldn't have been deemed necessary - but the basic infrastructures for dealing with cars (their parking) have not kept pace (or anything like it) with the twin growth of tourism and vehicles in use.
On Saturday, when writing about the semi-pedestrianisation scheme in Puerto Pollensa, I concluded by suggesting that car parking was a flaw of the scheme. This was cited in a discussion about the scheme on Facebook. I am certainly not the only one to question this.
Without going into the whys and wherefores of the Puerto Pollensa project, it occurred to me that the issue of parking that it raises is an example of a much wider problem. And it is now a pretty major problem. How does Mallorca reconcile itself to the sheer volume of vehicles that it has? In particular, how is this reconciled with demand from tourists and also residents (and residents are just as important in this) who drive to the beach?
Last summer there were two highly publicised examples of problems with parking. One was to do with Es Trenc beach. A car park which had been used for years was closed down on the grounds that it was "alegal", a word which suggests that no one is too sure whether it's legal or not and so the powers that be decide to err on the side of it not being legal. A consequence of this was that people looked to go somewhere else. Local businesses reported loss of trade.
The other example was in Playa de Muro and the use of the open ground in the holiday cottage area of Ses Casetes. Security guards were eventually deployed to control the number of cars, which forced ever more drivers to find parking on the main road, where they aren't supposed to park and where it is also quite dangerous if they do.
With this summer due to bring more numbers than before to the island, then there will be more cars as well. The registered vehicles identified by Tráfico's statistics don't tell the whole picture, because of the hire cars which aren't registered here. And so the pressure for parking is going to be greater still.
There is a plan for there to be some sort of park and ride system for Es Trenc, but will it be sufficient and would it be right for everywhere? Finding somewhere suitable (and legal) to use as a car park is itself problematic, and there are too many rules inhibiting the paving of paradise in order to put up a parking lot. More public transport? But how convenient is that, especially for families hauling the paraphernalia that they do to beaches? Mallorca has a conflict between demand for its beaches and its capacity to make them easily accessible. What's the solution? Is there one?