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Superblocks model

Vitoria - Gasteiz

Vitoria-Gasteiz envisaged a new structure of mobility and urban space, in which city blocks built a network for different mobility modes. The intention of this structure was to reclaim urban space for the citizen and avert the negative impacts that come with excessive car traffic.

Implementing sustainable mobility

Before a recent phase of urban growth and development, Vitoria-Gasteiz was characterised by a strong pedestrian mobility culture. The compact urban area offered an ideal setting for non-motorised transport. This culture was threatened by the rise of the car and the growth to a city size where the pedestrian mobility was not the most competitive one.

The main objectives of the measure were to:

  • Free up public space for social and neighbourhood relations.
  • Reduce noise and pollution.
  • Maintain accessibility.
  • Increase the use of public transport.

In its sustainable mobility plan, the city proposed a superblock model that reserves the space inside a block for pedestrians and cyclists. Private cars and public transport run along the streets that border these blocks. Through this measure, Vitoria-Gasteiz wanted to plan the final design and implementation of a new mobility and urban space framework of 77 superblocks.

The measure provided a framework to assess and plan the final design and implementation of each of these 77 superblocks, integrating the works with other measures proposed to improve the mobility in the city: new public transport network assessment and implementation, city centre access restrictions, new traffic light regulation for the new public transport network, new pedestrian & bicycle lanes network assessment and implementation, urban freight logistics, and so on.

Additionally to the definition of the whole superblock scheme, the main objective of the measure was to implement and test the scheme in at least one significant demonstrative superblock in the city.

How did the measure progress?

During the first 6 months of the MODERN project, Vitoria-Gasteiz proposed a new city design, reorganizing the whole urban fabric into 77 superblocks. After the definition of the overall reference plan, the Sancho el Sabio superblock was the first one to be implemented as a demonstrative superblock, to put into practice the model and to get a better knowledge of the problems and solutions that may be found during the process. The changes were mainly based on the installation of the tram, as well as the priority given to pedestrian in the whole superblock area.

The Municipality used in this project some funds for public works from the Spanish Fund for Local Investment (FEIL). The specific objectives of the reform were the following ones:

  • Transformation of Sancho el Sabio Street and adjacent streets into residential streets: new tram line, reduction of lanes, conversion of some of the streets to pedestrian streets, permission only for residential vehicle traffic, etc.
  • Fitting out of the pedestrian space with children playgrounds, benches, shelters, vegetation and wifi service.
  • Renovation of existing infrastructures (water and drainage…)

In the second year of the MODERN project, the main objective was to plan the central superblock. It lies in the central area of the city and contains 17.5% of the total activities. The area includes some of the densest neighbourhoods in the city. A first draft proposal of implementation for this central area was produced.

In the third year, that central superblock was developed almost entirely. Detailed planning was done to implement some renovations in 4 other inner streets.

in the fourth year there was an important change in the philosophy of the superblock model. Due to the economic crisis context, the municipality adapted the plans to develop all the superblocks of the city centre without having to spend a great amount of money to make public works and big changes in the structure of streets.

This plan was based on the definition and signalling of slow-speed streets, so the motorised vehicles should adapt their speed to the speed of pedestrians and cyclists.Likewise, the installation of several elements in the pavement (flower boxes, etc.) helped reduce the car speed. Though works didn't finish at the end of the MODERN project, 45 streets were modified following those criteria.

At the end of the MODERN project, the implementation of superblocks largely exceeded the originally foreseen implementation of just one demonstrative superblock.

Regarding participation, dissemination and communication activities, since September 2008 a permanent working group had a weekly meeting with technicians and politicians in order to assure a strong consensus regarding the measures to be implemented.

A permanent contact with citizens’ associations regarding was kept by the Municipality.  As a result of those meetings, some improvements were included in the detailed planning for the demonstrative superblock.

A global communication and sensitization campaign for the Mobility Plan was designed and launched to create a conceptual favourable perception in the citizens towards a new culture of sustainable mobility. The campaign included advertising in newspapers, bus shelters, outdoor advertising, radio and Internet, etc.

What were the outcomes of the measure?

The main results in this measure were the following ones:

  • Detailed projects were drawn up to develop 15 superblocks in the city centre, plus the demonstrative superblock and the central superblock. Those 17 superblocks were created and working at the end of the MODERN project.
  • Elaboration of a detailed plan to develop a demonstrative superblock in the city centre.
  • Development of the demonstrative superblock to its full extent; development of the central superblock.
  • Pedestrian surface in the demonstrative superblock increased from 45% of the total surface before the action to 74% after it.
  • Noise measured in the demonstrative superblock before the action: 66,50 dBA, and after the action: 61,00 dBA. The result is directly related to the reduction of motorized vehicles in the zone.
  • 42% reduction in CO2; 42% reduction in NOx; 38% reduction in particles.
  • Increase of the pedestrian surface from 45% to 74%.

Durability of the results is expected to be great, because changes are based mainly on infrastructural modifications.

The impact is big in the quarters where changes have been made, but they will also affect the rest of the city in terms of motorized mobility and, to a lesser extent, cycling and pedestrian mobility.

These results are transferable as long as plans with similar objectives in other cities are based on the same foundations of heavy infrastructural changes and powerful participation, communication and promotion campaigns.

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