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The Life-Saving Benefits of Barcelona’s Car-Free ‘Superblocks’

A new study estimates that a citywide plan to limit cars and capture nearly 70 percent of street space for bikes and pedestrians could save 667 lives per year.
A man walks along a sidewalk in Barcelona. The city's plan to implement more car-free areas and boost pedestrian space could have a major public health payoff, a new study says.
A man walks along a sidewalk in Barcelona. The city's plan to implement more car-free areas and boost pedestrian space could have a major public health payoff, a new study says.Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

When Barcelona officials installed a “superblock” in the working-class neighborhood of Poblenou in 2016, it was fiercely controversial. Closing off a three-square-block chunk of the city to vehicle traffic and reserving those streets for pedestrians and cyclists ticked off motorists, who felt attacked by the fast-and-cheap tactic to reduce car use.

But soon Poblenou residents appreciated the nearly doubled amount of space that they now had to walk, play, and socialize. The resistance soon faded, and five more superblocks have since been implemented around the city; Salvador Rueda, the head of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, envisions creating 503 in total. The ultimate goal is to turn nearly 70 percent of Barcelona’s street space over to people. It’s a project that has attracted a lot of international attention, and some efforts in the United States to replicate the idea.