Barcelona is a densely populated city, not only by residents but by tourists and businesses, leaving the streets flooded with cars, vans and lorries. We have all fallen victim to Barcelona’s vehicle over-population at some point – whether it’s noise or air pollution, the lack of freedom to roam or perhaps what pains us most is just the visual monstrosity of seeing heaps of metal constantly occupying our views when we step out into the streets.
The consequences of the sheer quantity of vehicles passing through the streets each day are a lot more shocking than you might think, much more than noise pollution. So much so that studies are showing that air pollution alone is causing up to 3,500 premature deaths every year in the metropolitan area of Barcelona and grave problems to the ecosystems and agriculture. It’s plain to see that the municipalities of Barcelona are inconsistent in meeting the air quality targets established by the EU. In fact, studies are showing that if we simply just met the EU-mandated levels for nitrogen dioxide, 1,200 deaths could be prevented each year, resulting in an average increase of 5 months of our life-expectancy.
What Can We Do?
In the light of such risks, Barcelona has introduced the SuperBlock, a new concept which aims to redirect traffic around the outside of new “mini” neighbourhoods. Each SuperBlock will reach up to 400 x 400 metres and will consist of 9 existing blocks. Cars, lorries and scooters will be able to travel around the outsides of these SuperBlocks at the current, established speed limits, such as 50km/h or 30km/h, however, within the SuperBlocks, only pedestrians, cyclists and the private vehicles of the residents (with a speed limit of 10km/h) are allowed. This will be complemented by the arrival of an improved bus service and 300km of new cycle paths so citizens are still able to travel but in a less sedentary, cleaner and risk-free environment.
The desired outcome is to reduce car-usage around the city by 21% within 2 years. Although, this is an ambitious project, the benefits are numerous and so varied. As well as reducing pollution and therefore improving air quality and reducing noise pollution, SuperBlocks will reduce the amount of road accidents (of which there were over 9,000 last year), alter our sedentary lifestyles, encourage interactions and events within the community and finally, our streets will be free and we can re-gain our green spaces. At last, Barcelona will be able to revive its culture, expression and social cohesion.
Let’s Do It!
SuperBlocks is already on its way to development, implemented first in the Eixample areas given its existing grid-like patterns. With an initial budget of €10m, the first task is to redirect traffic around the predicted SuperBlocks to give back space to the citizens. The following step will be to de-industrialise these “mini” neighbourhoods by creating green spaces and freeing up space for residents.
Barcelona is only becoming a busier city given its prime location next to the sea and its perfect climate, but, unfortunately, its growing popularity is detrimental to our health, the local environment and the quality of life of our residents. Without a doubt, this is a challenging project, but it could be the successful solution to make Barcelona a healthy, sociable and green space that can finally breathe.