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Environment

Barcelona plans to ban cars from 60% of streets

Flickr: Moya Brenn

One of the seemingly inescapable features of city life is the traffic, the noisy, dirty wall of cars next to every sidewalk.

It often seems like cities are designed to cater to vehicles instead of pedestrians and this imbalance leads to a range of health and environmental problems: excessive air and noise pollution, high rates of car-related deaths, sedentary behavior, etc. 

For Barcelona, the dominance of fumes-pumping metal shells has become oppressive.

The city was originally intended to promote healthy urban living, with ample greenery and space to roam, but as the 20th century progressed, cars choked the streets.

Now, Barcelona’s air pollution leads to 3,500 premature deaths per year and 61% of the population faces unhealthy levels of noise pollution.

The ambient stress of living in a car-centric city also causes people to avoid the streets and pursue more sedentary lifestyles, which brings its own cascade of health problems.

The new mobility plan aims to reduce traffic by 21%, reclaim around 60% of streets for people, introduce more green spaces and bike lanes, and promote outdoors activities.

City officials will designate “superblocks,” corridors for cars to drive on, while clearing surrounding spaces of cars to create “citizen spaces” for free roaming.

Barcelona SuperblockImage: Illustration: BCNecologia

The plan will limit how precisely cars can maneuver, but the whole city will still be in reach. There will also be improved public transport. Bus routes will be accelerated and new stops will be added so that a person will never be more than 300 meters from a stop.

Neighborhoods will be affected one-by-one to fine-tune the effort, learn best practices and allow citizens to adjust.

Drivers will no doubt be annoyed by the crimped movement, but Barcelona is setting an important precedent for city life.

The new plan will significantly cut down on air and noise pollution, and, over time, it could spark a renaissance of street culture.

Cities are the future of humanity--by 2050 more than two-thirds of the global population will be in a city--and as they become more dense, two futures are possible.

The first future is a continuation of the status quo: more cars and noise, more pollution and climate change, more health problems and misery.

The second future returns dignity to people and the environment by dramatically reimagining what it means to live in a city.

Many cities experience a tipping point when pollution becomes thick and stifling and the basic living conditions are compromised, after which they overhaul urban planning. 

Lots of cities are embracing environmental frameworks, but many others have a long way to go

As Janet Sanz, Barcelona’s city councillor for ecology, urbanism and mobility told the Guardian ,

“This plan sums up the essence of urban ecoloy. Our objective is for Barcelona to be a city in which to live. Also, as a Mediterranean city, its residents spend a long time on the streets – those streets need to be second homes, or extensions of one’s residence, at all times … Public spaces need to be spaces to play, where green is not an anecdote – where the neighbourhood’s history and local life have a presence.”