Barcelona Opens First “Superblock” for Cyclists and Peds

I received a post in an Urban Planning Group I belong to at LinkedIn regarding a new bicycle and pedestrian friendly street design that is being used in Barcelona.  It’s called Superilla, or Superblock, and it’s located in the El Poblenou neighborhood in this city of  over 1.5 million residents.   I think it’s a clever design that is portable to other places, even in America.  Here’s how it works:

The standard street grid includes through streets which encourage pass through traffic.

The standard street grid includes through streets which encourage lots of pass through traffic.

The Superilla concept eliminates through traffic.

The Superilla concept eliminates through traffic while still providing motor vehicle access to homes and businesses.

This is replaced...

This is replaced…

...with this!

…with this!

Cars and trucks are still welcome, but because there is no through traffic only one lane is required.

Cars and trucks are still welcome, but because there is no through traffic only one lane is required.  The other lane is reserved for bicycles.

And extremely low speed limits (6 mph) assure everyone's safety.

And extremely low speed limits (6 mph) assure everyone’s safety.

All of the above pictures are video captures from Television 3, Barcelona.You can read more about Superilla and watch the video here.  Depending on your browser, you may be able to translate from Catalonian.

Barcelona is already a great city for cyclists and Superilla will make it better. This is an intelligent design for urban streets.  It is being implemented to change the very fabric of the city and to incent people to park the car and instead walk or bike to local destinations.

Although it is contrary to what most people think, eliminating through streets does not necessarily lead to congestion on adjacent streets.  There are several reasons for this.  First and foremost, by making it easier to cycle, city officials are literally taking cars off of the street.  Less cars means less congestion.

There’s more.  Those motorists who insist on driving will choose different routes if the threat of congestion exists.  In many cases, they’ll avoid the area altogether.   New York officials found this out when they removed most of the West Side Highway that hugged the Hudson River in Manhattan.  Their success has encouraged other cities to take similar steps.  In car-centric Dallas, for example, there are ongoing talks about removing elevated Interstate 345 as it passes through downtown and replacing it with an at grade street that would encourage pedestrian and bicycle passage.

There are a couple of other observations I wanted to share from the above screen grabs.  One, the speed limit on Superilla is set at ten kilometers per hour.  That’s six miles per hour.  Because the street goes nowhere and merely provides access to local homes and businesses, there’s no reason to go any faster.  That’s a huge plus for people on bikes and on foot.  American cities need to start doing the same thing.

Speaking of bikes, check out the docking station for bikeshare in the fourth photo.  There must be thirty bikes in that one dock alone.  I did a little digging.  The Barcelona bike share system is called el Bicing and is sponsored by Vodafone.  Unlike many US systems that seem to be geared more towards tourists than residents, el Bicing is designed to complement the transit system. It allows residents to make short trips of 30 minutes or less (5 miles) by bicycle rather than tax other transit services.  This is exactly what bike share should be.  Check out the coverage map.    It’s awesome.

Bicing route map. Talk about coverage! This is what bikeshare should be.

Bicing route map. Talk about coverage! This is what bikeshare should be.

For what it’s worth, Barcelona was eleventh in the world in the most recent Copenhagenize.eu rankings of bicycle friendliness.   This Catalonian city is clearly a global leader and some place that we all should watching to see how this is done.

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