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EU Urban Mobility Observatory
News article30 April 2018Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport3 min read

Barcelona bans cars using the superblock model - can German cities learn from Barcelona and Vitoria-Gasteiz?

Barcelona made use of the superblock model as introduced by Vitoria-Gasteiz. The effects: instead of noise from cars and congestion the sound of playing children is on the streets. Parents sit on benches and talk with each other. Using the super-block model in some of the city quarters, Barcelona freed streets from traffic turning them mostly to car-free ones. Crossings and streets are now places to meet and chat for residents and by-passers. Traffic itself is put on main streets around these areas. But are these superblocks suitable for Germany, too?

Superblocks are part of the Urban Mobility Plan of Barcelona 2013-2018. In the ideal case, it bases the application of the superblock models to nine building blocks. Since quarters are designed in chequerboard pattern, these are the basis for defining a superblock. Inside the superblocks, almost no cars are used. The speed limit is at 10 km/h only. According to the concept, pedestrians and cyclists have the right of way against cars. Residents and deliveries can enter the blocks by car, the remaining traffic needs to use the surrounding streets. Cars cannot go through the blocks but instead only use single blocks each. And they can turn left only. Space formerly used for traffic are now playgrounds or football fields. Instead of large streets, pedestrian and cycling connections are strengthened.

“I see basically only positive effects with the super-block model” states Oliver Schwedes of the Technical University Berlin, Institute for land and sea transport, Head of department of integrated traffic planning. Having less cars results in lower noise and emission values. But not everybody was convinced of the concept from the very beginning. Retailers had concerns on losing customers due to less cars. According to Schwedes, this is a wide-spread but unsubstantiated concern: “Retailers do not need to be afraid of car-free zones, since the best customers are pedestrians and cyclists.” If customers are coming to shops by walking or cycling, they come mostly from the direct proximity and therefore regularly to these shops. Additionally, those parking close to shops are often not customers at all.

Schwedes sees potential in Germany for the super-block model as well: many cities are planned and structured in a way that allow summarising blocks to superblocks. But superblocks are not the silver bullet to solve all problems. Their application depends on the local circumstances and require integrated thinking to look at different approaches and how to connect them. All modes of transport as well as the city structure and the needs of people need to be considered. Having alternatives to car use at hand quickly to allow easily getting to one’s destination is of high importance, too.

Concepts for reducing car traffic are at hand in Germany already, too. Schwedes mentions parking space management and its pricing as one possible leverage to car use and ownership. Cities like Berlin experiment with residential areas providing car parking at the edge of the settlement only in collective garages for all. The idea is that the distance to one’s own car should be as long as to the next public transport stop to motivate public transport usage. Pricing for car parking is an additional option here again to further push people to public transport use. Additionally, sharing service offers can be installed in such resident’s collective parking garages as well as infrastructure for e-mobility such as charging stations. One planning aspect for residential areas is as well to provide public transport like trams first and then construct flats and houses.

“Copying all ideas one-to-one is not necessary, more importantly the local conditions need to be considered.” states Schwedes. But one issue seems to be undeniable: For future developments, less motorised traffic is needed.

Image source: © Shutterstock

Story first published by “Business Insider Deutschland” on 20th of April 2018.



Publication date
30 April 2018
Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport
  • Urban mobility planning
  • Germany