Air pollution and traffic jams are big problems for Barcelona, but the city’s new Urban Mobility Plan promises a pathway to greener, cleaner, and more pedestrian-friendly urban living. The Catalan capital’s bold strategy is based around the concept of the “superblock”: a mini-neighborhood created on a grid that confines higher-speed motorized traffic on the perimeter so that the interior roads are freed up for pedestrian-friendly public space. This simple yet smart retrofit of Barcelona’s existing gridded neighborhoods is already underway and is part of a larger plan to reduce traffic by 21 percent over the next two years.
An increase in pedestrian-friendly public space and the reduction of traffic are big benefits of Barcelona’s Urban Mobility Plan, but even more important is the plan’s potential in reducing premature deaths. Studies have attributed air pollution as the driving cause behind 3,500 premature deaths a year in Barcelona’s metropolitan area; the staggering number doesn’t include the injuries or deaths caused by traffic. By removing space for motorized traffic and increasing attractive alternatives—the city plans to add 200 kilometers (124 miles) of bicycle paths and make bus stops more easily accessible to residents—urban planners hope that people will ditch the car to walk and bicycle.
To understand the superblock, one can start with the 400 meter by 400 meter nine square blocks of the famous gridded Eixample, a neighborhood that will also be one of the first areas to implement the plan. In the current nine square blocks, motorized traffic passes through all roads at 50 kilometers per hour (around 30 miles per hour). Under the superblock plan, however, the inner four intersecting roads will be reclaimed for public space. Private vehicles may use those roads but will be restricted to speeds of 10 kilometers per hour (6.2 miles per hour). Higher speed traffic and public transport will be confined to the outer roads.
If all goes to plan, the scheme could free up 160 intersections. “This plan sums up the essence of urban ecology,” Janet Sanz, city councillor for ecology, urbanism and mobility, told The Guardian. “Our objective is for Barcelona to be a city in which to live. Also, as a Mediterranean city, its residents spend a long time on the streets – those streets need to be second homes, or extensions of one’s residence, at all times … Public spaces need to be spaces to play, where green is not an anecdote – where the neighbourhood’s history and local life have a presence.”
Via The Guardian