Barcelona’s Car-Taming ‘Superblocks’ Meet ResistanceFergus O’Sullivan
Jan 20, 2017
Barcelona’s plans to slash car traffic may be some of the most innovative in the world, but right now their introduction isn’t going all that smoothly. Since last year, the city has been introducing so-called superblocks. These are square sections of the city’s grid made up of nine actual blocks, with a combined area of just under 40 acres, where through traffic is permitted only on perimeter roads. The idea of these superblocks is to cut pollution and car collisions while making more space for pedestrians and cyclists. As yet, it seems that not everyone is convinced.
Last Sunday, some residents in Barcelona’s Poblenou neighborhood took to the streets to protest against their own local superblock, introduced in September, which they say is making their daily lives far more complicated by forcing local drivers to take long, circuitous routes around the neighborhood. A small local protest like this might not amount to a whole hill of beans, but Barcelona’s current superblocks (of which there are four) are just the beginning of a plan to extend the traffic model across the entire city by the end of 2018, by which time 500 superblocks should cover the city. Already, five more superblocks are slated for introduction this year alone, and more public resistance could well be on the way.
The concept could certainly reshape the way the city functions. Superblocks, known as Superilles in Catalan, work by limiting the number of roads that cars can use to cross the city. Following the diagram below, through traffic is permitted only on roads around the perimeter of each superblock, where new bus lines are installed to mop up residents who have abandoned regular driving. The streets within the block have a low 10 kilometers-per-hour speed limit and allow access only for local residents, public transit, delivery vehicles, and emergency services. They are modeled so that vehicles can use them only to drive into the superblock then backtrack out again.
Once this system is in place, the less car-encumbered streets are redesigned, extending pedestrian space and and allowing for amenities such as playgrounds. Currently, Barcelona has three fully complete, redesigned superblocks, and one (the superblock in Poblenou) where traffic has been re-routed using barriers and bollards, but new pedestrian amenities and landscaping have not yet been installed.