How Barcelona’s “Superblocks” Pedestrian Plan Hopes to Return the Streets to the People

Cars have reshaped cities across the world, largely at the cost of everyone outside of a private vehicle. In recent years the “grid city” of Barcelona has been suffering from clogged roads and choked air quality, with urban traffic contributing to the 3500 premature deaths caused by air pollution each year. Beginning in the district of Eixample, proposals laid out in the 2014 Urban Mobility Plan aims to diffuse traffic congestion and reduce air pollution in the city. In a recent film Vox have picked up on one of a number of potential schemes: the Superblock concept (known as superilles in Catalan). According to Salvador Rueda, the Director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona who developed the plan, these are “grid[s] of nine blocks [in which] the main mobility happens on the roads around the outside, […] and the roads within are for local transit only.”

Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer's 1859 urban plan for Barcelona. Image via Wikimedia Commons under public domain (original source: Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat, Barcelona)

Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer’s 1859 urban plan for Barcelona. Image via Wikimedia Commons under public domain (original source: Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat, Barcelona)

As shown in the video, a Superblock closes off traffic within a square of nine city blocks, with main traffic only allowed around the perimeter. A “one-way system inside the Superblock makes it impossible to cut through to the other side of the Superblock,” Rueda has explained in an interview with Curbed. “That gives neighbors access to their garages and parking spaces but keeps the Superblock clear of through traffic.” Rueda estimates that Barcelona can implement this initial phase across the city for less than €20 million. The second phase, which is designed to reinvent the reclaimed space, will ban curbside parking (moving vehicles to off-street parking complexes) and reduce the speed limit to 10 kilometers per hour (6 miles per hour) in a bid to encourage new forms of urban appropriation. The result is a much more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, encouraging pedestrian and bike traffic, markets, and other on-street activity.

via screenshot from Vox video

via screenshot from Vox video

The video also gives a glimpse of Barcelona‘s future improvements by discussing the example of Vitoria-Gasteiz, a city northwest of Barcelona. Since implementing the Superblock in 2008, pedestrian surface area increased from 45% to 74%. Pollution also decreased, with nitrogen oxide emissions reduced by 42% and particle pollution by 38%. Finally, noise levels also dropped, from 66.5 decibels to 61 decibels – cutting sound amplitude almost in half.

The first Superblocks will be tested across 5 neighborhoods in Barcelona, with a further 120 locations identified as potentially suitable. For more, the full video and accompanying article from Vox can be found here.

This article was written by Sharon Lam and James Taylor-Foster.

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