Natalie Mueller’s Car-Free Plans Could Save 660 Lives Every Year in Barcelona

A study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health says its radical superblocks scheme could cut air pollution by a quarter.

20.09.2019 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Alfons Taekema on Unsplash
Photo by Alfons Taekema on Unsplash

Cities around the world are cracking down on air pollution by gradually increasing the amount of car-free spaces. Pedestrian zones have cropped up in London, Brussels, Copenhagen, and, controversially, Madrid — a city that tried, and failed, to let the cars back in.

Now a new study in Barcelona, by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, estimates that the city could stop more than 660 people dying early every year if it followed a radical ‘superblock plan’.

The Guardian explains that these superblocks are groups of streets where traffic is all but eradicated — and spaces where areas previously taken up by cars are replaced by pedestrians and play areas.

The conclusions come from a new report that finds that if a total of 503 superblocks were created, air pollution would be reduced by a quarter — bringing the output of nitrogen dioxide in line with strict World Health Organisation recommendations. It is currently overshooting these limits by 17.5%.

Superblocks have already been deployed in areas of the city including Grácia, Sants, and Poblenou.

The report adds that if the recommendations in the report are followed, the life expectancy of the average Barcelona resident could increase by almost 200 days — and save the city €1.7bn ($1.9bn) by decreasing pollution and heat effects.

Natalie Mueller, lead author of the study, said that the data presented involves estimates. “Nevertheless, irrespective of the specific figures, what this study shows is that urban planning and transport interventions like the superblocks have significant implications for public health.”

She added that Barcelona needs to combine the superblocks methods with strategies to tackle climate crisis, improve air quality, and break away from car-centred urban planning.

Despite initial opposition, superblocks have reportedly led to a 30% boom in local businesses. The Guardian notes that other cities have been eyeing up the model, and there is a proposal from the US to introduce something like the Barcelona scheme in an area in Capitol hill.

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