King Sancho VI of Navarre founded “Nueva Victoria” in 1181 as a walled defensive outpost that acquired its name “Gasteiz” from a hamlet that used to stand on the hill around which the city was built. Situated on the shortest route between the tablelands of Castile and Northern Europe, the city has always been an important trading centre. An extra-ordinary historical feature of Vitoria-Gasteiz was individual privileges that declared all inhabitants to be equal without distinction between nobles and the masses. The well-preserved medieval district has been declared a monumental site in 1987. Vitoria-Gasteiz offers 42 m² of green space per person. Especially the green belt surrounding the city received international appraisal. These features and Vitoria-Gasteiz’s long commitment to progressive environmental policies have been acknowledged by the city’s appointment as European Green Capital 2012.
Vitoria-Gasteiz’s reputation for balanced growth, careful urban planning and concern for environmental and social aspects is threatened by new challenges the city faces. Accelerated growth of the city is altering its scale and structure, which calls for adapted mobility management that is to be developed jointly with citizens. In Vitoria-Gasteiz, where most non-pedestrian journeys are made by car, traffic is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and an issue that arguably has the most adverse impact on urban living.
In response to these issues, Vitoria-Gasteiz started to work on a Sustainable Mobility and Public Space Plan in March 2006. The plan aims to reduce the environmental impact and noise from transport and increase the accessibility of public spaces. Through its participation in CIVITAS MODERN, the city wants to double its efforts to turn public spaces into pleasant environments for people to meet again.
An integrated model to regulate traffic, access and urban space organisation through the definition of so-called superblocks is one of the strategies the city developed and wants to test through the MODERN project. The objectives of this initiative are to reorganise traffic to free up space, redefine the public transport network to improve accessibility and coverage, consolidate the network of cycling paths, set up a network of pedestrian walkways, and identify infrastructure required for parking and delivery of goods. The scheme is targeting a reduction of at least 10 – 15 percent in overall traffic flows in the controlled areas, and 30 percent of travels to be made by bus or bike. Pedestrian areas are to be increased by more than 50 percent and bicycle lanes will be extended from 38km to 148km. A new traffic light system will give priority to public transport, which will reduce travel times. Vitoria-Gasteiz also aims to convert its entire public transport fleet to biofuels. Educational campaigns will sensitise citizens to safe and energy-efficient driving, which is projected to result in 15 percent savings in fuel.