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  • If you imagine a typical American city street, and you take away the space that's dedicated

  • to cars, you aren't left with very much.

  • There are some narrow walkways on the side, and some bridges in between them, but not

  • much else.

  • Cars dominate cities.

  • Spend some time walking around most cities and you'll find yourself pushed to narrow

  • sidewalks, waiting for crosswalk lights.

  • You'll find cyclists navigating really narrow strips of space.

  • Americans are used to cars the way that fish are used to water.

  • That's so ubiquitous in the U.S. that I think for most people, it just never occurred

  • to them that it could be otherwise.

  • But what if there were a way to change that?

  • To give space back to pedestrians and bicyclists, and to make cities more friendly to life outside

  • of a car?

  • It turns out Barcelona might have a solution.

  • In 2014, the city was faced with serious air pollution problems.

  • Barcelona and its 35 surrounding municipalities consistently failed to meet the EU's air

  • quality targets.

  • Studies were showing that air pollution in the region causes 3,500 premature deaths every

  • year.

  • Traffic in the city also causes severe noise pollution.

  • So the city developed an extensive Urban Mobility Plan with the hope of reducing traffic by

  • 21 percent.

  • The coolest part of the plan

  • were these things:

  • They call them "superilles".

  • Superilles?

  • Si, superilles.”

  • That translates tosuperblocks”.

  • It's this urban design concept intended to minimize the presence of cars in city centers.

  • The wordsuperblockhas been used before to describe huge city blocks without any passageways

  • for cars.

  • But that's not what's happening here.

  • So here's how Barcelona's plan works.

  • You take nine square city blocks and close off the inside to through traffic.

  • So buses, big freight trucksor any vehicles that are trying to get from one part of town

  • to the nexthave to drive around the perimeter.

  • Inside the superblock, the speed limit is kept to 10 kilometers per hourthat translates

  • to just over 6 miles per hourand curbside parking is replaced by underground parking.

  • That means you wind up with street space for markets, outdoor games, and events.

  • Within this nine square block perimeter you're gonna have kind of a pleasant streetscape

  • where people can walk around and mingle and do things without this kind of constant fear

  • of cars around.

  • The concept is going to be tested out in five neighborhoods, but the city has identified

  • 120 possible intersections throughout the region where it could be implemented.

  • So how do we know what the results of this kind of plan would look like?

  • Well, northwest of Barcelona is a city called Vitoria-Gasteiz, which has implemented superblock

  • designs since 2008.

  • In the main superblock at the city center, pedestrian space increased from 45 percent

  • of the total surface area to 74 percent.

  • With so much less traffic, noise levels dropped from 66.5 dBA to 61 dBA.

  • Most impressive of all, there was a 42% reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions and a 38% reduction

  • in particle pollution in the area.

  • On top of that, business is up.

  • What you consistently see when people change their streetscapes to prioritize human beings

  • over cars is you don't see any decline in economic activity, you see the opposite.

  • You get more people walking and cycling around more slowly, stopping more often patronizing

  • businesses more, and thatcenter of social activity will tend to build on itself.

  • So here's the question: could something like this work in an American city?

  • Barcelona has some unique advantages getting started on this plan, in that a lot of it

  • was built before cars, and a lot of it was built on a simple grid.

  • The district of Eixamplewhere the superblock plan is basedwas designed in 1859

  • in this repetitive grid structure by this guy, Ildefons Cerdá.

  • He basically invented the word for (and the study of) “urbanizationwhen he laid out this

  • grid plan for Barcelona that evenly distributed resources like schools and hospitals.

  • But superblock designers insist that cities don't need a simple grid structure

  • to implement this kind of plan.

  • It can work anywhere.

  • Now, cities in the US have have attempted some car-minimizing projects like this.

  • The problem is, they're usually done in wealthier areas with lots of existing businesses.

  • Zoning policies often require separation of residential and commercial areasbut an

  • ideal walkable area would be a mix of the two.

  • On top of that, zoning minimums on parking availability encourage the presence of cars

  • and parking lots, and minimums on street width make for wide, unwalkable streets.

  • Because of that, walkable districts are basically isolated luxury items in the US.

  • What makes the Barcelona plan different is that they aren't setting aside one fancy

  • neighborhood or town square to make pedestrian-friendly

  • instead, by proposing superblocks throughout

  • the entire city, they've declared car-free spaces a right for everybody, no matter what

  • part of town they're in.

  • Maybe — this might be overly optimistic — but I think it has sunk in in the U. S. that the model whereby

  • every city resident comes with a carand drives a car everywhereis just inherently limited.

  • It limits the growth of your city, it limits the health of your city and the growth of your city.

  • So one way or another we have to find ways of having a lot of people live close to one another without all of

  • them having cars.

  • You know, being able to get around and work and play in live and have enjoyable lives without cars.

If you imagine a typical American city street, and you take away the space that's dedicated

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B1 INT US city barcelona plan grid pollution parking

Superblocks: How Barcelona is taking city streets back from cars

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    Samuel   posted on 2018/04/16
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