Barcelona’s car-free ‘superblocks’ could save hundreds of lives

Barcelona could save hundreds of lives and cut air pollution by a quarter if it fully implements its radical superblocks scheme to reduce traffic.  A study carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health calculates that the city could prevent 667 premature deaths every year if it created all 503 superblocks envisaged in its initial plan – up from the current six schemes.

The superblocks are groups of streets where traffic is reduced to close to zero, with the space formerly occupied by cars given over to pedestrians and play areas.

The report claims that creating all 503 superblocks would reduce ambient levels of NO2 by 24%, from the current level of 47 micrograms per cubic metre to 36 micrograms per cubic metre. A decrease on that scale would bring Barcelona’s NO2 levels into line with the WHO recommendation of a maximum of 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

The life expectancy of the average Barcelona resident could increase by almost 200 days, the report adds, saving the city €1.7bn (£1.52bn) a year. The most notable health benefits would come from reductions in air pollution (preventing 291 premature deaths a year), followed by reduced traffic noise and heat island effects (preventing 163 and 117 premature deaths respectively).

The study also estimates that the total of 1.19m journeys in private vehicles would fall by 230,000 a week as people switched to public transport or making journeys on foot or by bicycle.