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Visiting Barcelona’s Superblocks

Barcelona in Spain is a city that suffers air pollution, much of it from transport.

Reducing dependence on cars for short trips is one way of tackling pollution, so on a visit there I looked at one of Barcelona’s tactics in weaning short journeys off the car: Superblocks. Here are some photos from my visit to the Poblenou neighbourhood.

Superblock description

Above: Called superilles or ‘superislands’ in Catalan, the concept is that up to nine contiguous blocks are joined together and traffic within these blocks is restricted, as this diagram shows.

Superblock entrance

Above: The entrance to the Superblock is made with colourful road paint, signs and road furniture.

Superblock view interior

Above: The interior of the block is made liveable with benches and colourful road paint. Cars travel in one direction only and at very low speeds. The entire Superblock is planned out in fine detail before construction, from the travel directions of all modes of transport to road signage, furniture and games. 8,000 square meters of open space were freed up by creating this Superblock.

Council's map of traffic flow

Above: Car traffic is restricted to local-access journeys only, and internal streets of the Superblock use a one-way system that allows acccess only in certain directions to certain blocks, so if you’re taking your car into the Superblock interior, you have to think through where you’re going. Through journeys -and short trips by car generally- are discouraged.

Contraflow and vehicle charging station

Above: Contraflow markings, low speed limits, scooter parking and vehicle charging station. The original plan was that superblocks would cover the entire Barcelona city area by 2018, though resistance from some residents has threatened progress. The five-circles flower symbol on the planter is taken the traditional panot paving sett used on footpaths throughout Barcelona.

Vehicle charging station

Above: Electric vehicle charging station. These are now common in cities throughout the EU.

Contraflow in the junction

Above: Contra-flow cycle concept in junction. Most traffic is one-way, but cycle users can travel in both directions. The low speed limits mean this layout is relatively safe without any physical separation between directions. The internal streets are provided with the same contra-flow layout.

Block interior is made very comfortable

Above: Block interior is made very comfortable. As this photo shows the community are really making use of this space. Previously it would have been entirely dedicated to parking and driving of cars. Helmet use by people on bikes is common in Spain but not mandatory for adults in built-up areas.

Little kids playing confirm the liveability of this space!

Above: Little kids playing confirm the liveability of this space! A dad feeding his baby on one of the benches confirmed to me that these were mostly local kids. He also said that resistance to the concept was largely down to poor consultation by authorities with locals. It does seem to me that, for someone used to very convenient car use, the new layouts must take some adjustment.

Planters

Above: Planters help shelter the play areas; bike-share station can just be seen on left; bike parking and ‘motos’ parking for motorbikes.

The principal signage

Above: The principal signage. Where motorised vehicles are permitted, speed limits are very low.

Outdoor games!

Above: Outdoor games! Polbenou is part of the geometrically-planned area of Barcelona, where repetitive rectangular blocks have been laid out with distinctive diagonal chamfers, widening each junction to form a minor civic space. Poblenou has undergone a major re-generation in the past decade or so. Many buildings are new.

And some funky street furniture

Above: Funky street furniture. 200 architecture students collaborated to design the Superblock features.

Back to reality

Above: Back to reality! Superblock ends here. But the two-way bike lane visible beyond is of good quality and not atypical for regular Barcelona streets. The man here is on one of Barcelona’s Bicing bike-share machines.

I flew in and out of Barcleona, which perhaps made me contribute more than my fair share to its air pollution. From the plane I could see the smear of brown smog that often hangs over the city. I hope that Superblocks help to make that sky a bit clearer, and I hope to take the train next time.

Will Andrews (CAN Exec Volunteer) June 2017

Information from Barcelona authorities- http://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/qualitataire/en/noticia/the-poblenou-superblock-fills-with-life

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