Sunday, February 19, 2017

Bold Steps in Barcelona to Battle Traffic and Pollution

Faced with excessive pollution and noise levels, Barcelona has come up with a new mobility plan to reduce traffic by 21%. And it comes with something extra: freeing up nearly 60% of streets currently used by cars to turn them into so-called “citizen spaces”. The plan is based around the idea of superblocks (in spanish, "superilles"} – mini neighborhoods around which traffic will flow, and in which spaces will be repurposed to “fill the city with life”, as its tagline says.

Barcelona’s new plan consists of creating big superblocks through a series of gradual interventions that will repurpose existing infrastructure, starting with traffic management by changing road signs and bus routes. Superblocks will be smaller than neighborhoods, but bigger than actual blocks. This will first be applied to Eixample neighborhood and others like Sant Martí, which largely follows the same grid pattern.

In Eixample, a superblock will consist of nine existing blocks of the grid. Car, scooter, truck and bus traffic will then be restricted to just the roads in the superblock perimeters, and they will only be allowed in the streets in between if they are residents or providing local businesses, and at a greatly reduced speed of 5 mph.

Superblocks will be complemented by the introduction of nearly 300 miles of new cycling lanes (there are currently around 60 miles of them), as well as an orthogonal bus network that has already been put in place, whereby buses only navigate a series of main thoroughfares. This will ensure, says Salvador Rueda, director of the city’s urban ecology agency, that “anyone will be less than 2/10 of a mile from a bus stop at any time – and average waiting times will be of five minutes anywhere in the city.” Currently, average wait time for a bus is 14 minutes.   In addition, the city's goal to establish an equitable public transit network in which one could go from any point A to point B with just one transfer in 95% of the cases.

The superblock idea was first outlined in 1987, after noise mapping revealed that levels were too high, and the first superblock was tested in 2003 in Gràcia.  According to city councillor, Josep Maria Montaner, "Neighborhoods need to experiment with the concept and try the new spaces, little by little– and we hope many of the ideas for how to use them will come from them.”

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