Get a Glimpse of Barcelona’s “Superblocks” in Action

Barcelona's "superblocks," which restrict car access and expand public space, are beginning to take shape in Barcelona. Image: Barcelona Urban Mobility Plan
Barcelona's "superblocks," which restrict car access and expand public space, are beginning to take shape in Barcelona. Image: Barcelona Urban Mobility Plan

Barcelona is making headway on its “superblocks,” clusters of nine city blocks where car traffic is restricted and public space is expanded.

The city has installed four superblocks so far and plans to add five more this year before rapidly expanding the program in 2018, reports CityLab.

Like any major change to the streets, the superblocks have their detractors. But this video from the BBC shows how one works and it looks… great. Car traffic is down 40 percent inside this superblock, though there isn’t enough data yet to evaluate the change in traffic on the perimeter. (One concern with the concept is that transit may become slower — and less convenient if the walk to the bus gets longer.)

The BBC video shows how the four intersections within a superblock function. Most of the street space is reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists, and motor vehicles are limited to narrow rights-of-way that don’t provide linear access across the superblock.

The superblocks are part of a larger Barcelona initiative to improve air quality by reducing vehicle traffic 21 percent.

  • ambiguator

    Yes please.
    Kill cars.

  • Zane Bishop

    If the roads than ran from superblock to superblock (i.e., the routes where car traffic was not limited) were changed from one-way to two-way, would this not mostly solve the public transportation and automobile-accessibility problem?

  • bobfuss

    But I’ll bet that buildings there don’t all have their own driveway and garage, like in most US cities. The government cannot just take away vehicular access to your property without paying compensation, which would make this very expensive to implement in the US.

    I can see how it works in an ancient city with old buildings, however.

  • com63

    I don’t think you watched the video. They are not taking away local traffic access at all. They are just cutting down on vehicles travelling through the superblocks whose destination is not in the block.

  • bobfuss

    You are right – I didn’t watch it. But how does that work? If vehicles are allowed into that block at all, then vehicles will use it as a short cut even if the rules say they should not.

    I’m not clear how that could be enforced in the US – unless vehicles are physically blocked from entering a block, then they will enter it anyway, regardless of their destination.

  • com63

    I think the access forces you to turn so you can’t go straight through. If you entered from the street to the south, you can probably go one block, then you are forced to turn right, then forced to turn right again and you would exit the superblock on the same street you entered on. Not a problem for local traffic, but it prevents the streets from being used as a shortcut.

    If you have ever driven in Berkeley, CA, you would see these types of local traffic calming on side streets. They have barriers that force you to turn and you can’t go straight.

  • bobfuss

    Yes, I have seen those streets in Berkeley. I can only assume that the residents of those streets have agreed to it, since it obviously restricts some of their routes to and from their home forcing them, on occasions, to have to drive north when they want to go south, and vice versa.

    Presumably SatNav systems would have to know all this as well . .

  • AMH

    The video won’t play for me, neither here nor on the BBC page.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    In Berkeley, you will never get everyone to agree to anything. But the great majority in Berkeley supported these barriers, which is why we have them.

  • Walter Crunch

    It just played for me no problem.

  • Walter Crunch

    This is amazing. Plus, at intersection accidents are pretty much gone. Love the comment “it’s a ghost town by 9pm”. Whoah! Just think residents who LIVE there can actually sleep at night. The horror!

  • Bernard Finucane

    The area is not a an ancient walled city at all. It was built in the late 19th and early 20th century.

  • bobfuss

    Well OK, I’ve never been there, but in general the European solutions that we see being marketed here are predicated on very different city layouts. Something that works in an dense, ancient, flat city like Amsterdam or Copenhagen won’t work well in spread-out cities like Phoenix or Dallas, where trips might be 50 miles rather than 5 miles.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Too bad there isn’t a big network connecting up databases all over the world so you could go in and check to see what’s going on before you comment.

  • bobfuss

    Too bad you evidently have never travelled to Europe and therefore have no real-life appreciation (as opposed to derivative “google” knowledge) of how utterly different their situation is from ours.

  • Bernard Finucane

    I’ve lived in Europe since the eighties, on and off, but mostly on. The first time I was in Barcelona was December 1983. Celebrated the new year on Catalonia square. At the time I thought Homage to Catalonia was a fitting way to greet 1984, if you get the reference.

    Edit: More to the point, stop the video in the article at second 43, where it says “based on a simple idea. You can see the old city at the bottom and the new grid above it.

  • bobfuss

    Whatever, the idea that if it works in Barcelona it will work in Houston is a stretch.

  • RGD

    No, because they use bollards to force motorists to turn at the intersections, and they have created loop streets for motorists and linear corridors for pedestrians and cyclists.

  • RGD

    It would work in Houston’s Downtown, which is a grid, like the Eixample district’s plan (Eixample is where they are doing this).