SuperBlocks: Barcelonas plan to take streets back from cars

In a compact city of 1.6 million residents, and a continuous boom in tourism, Barcelona has experienced a rise in air and noise pollution. The impacts that pollution causes on the residents are no secret to the authorities and the local Catalan community, and Barcelona has persistently failed to meet EU air quality targets.

Air pollution was the cause of about 3,500 premature deaths, and has had negative impacts on the local ecosystems and agriculture. Traffic and gas emissions from vehicles has been a major contributor to the air pollution and Traffic is the first cause of noise pollution with 61% of residents living with noise levels higher than what is deemed as healthy by authorities.

Barcelona’s new strategy to reduce pollution is based around moving away from car supremacy, and more towards other sustainable means of transport. There are ambitious plans to reduce vehicle traffic in the city by changing secondary streets into spaces for the community and using ‘Super blocks’.

The city is currently working on a plan over several years. The first phase of the plan which is now being implemented in a few areas like example and Poblenou is to reduce speed limits to 20km/h. Its estimated by Rueda that phase one can be implemented across the city for less than 20 million euros. The idea is simple; take a few blocks of the city, and rather than all traffic being permitted on all the streets between and among those blocks, cordon off a perimeter and keep through traffic, and city buses on that.

Phase two is a little more complex. It will transform the way people use public spaces and change the city life. The plan is to replace curb side parking with off street garages, allowing people to use the streets for sport, games, and outdoor activities.

If super blocks were fully implemented across the city, it is estimated that 60% of the current road space for cars will shift to mixed use spaces or car free.

The last superblock was created in September 2016. The initiative had a bad reception from the locals because of the restriction of car traffic. During a protestation on January the fifteenth, the inhabitants expressed their dissatisfaction on the difficulties they were encountering to reach the city centre. However, the Town Hall refused to withdraw this decision because of the convincing results of the superblocks. 

The use of Superblocks resulted in a 10% and 30% increase in pedestrians and cyclists respectively. More importantly, the whole community has seen the car traffic reduce by 26% and a forward movement to reduce pollution levels.

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