Giving back public space to pedestrians and cyclists in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain)

By News Editor / Updated: 09 Apr 2015
The ‘Superblocks’ scheme aims at enhancing mobility as well as citizens’ quality of life by reducing the negative impacts caused by the extensive use of private cars and through better use of public space. A Superblock is a delimited city area designed and regulated to ensure the safe co-existence of pedestrians, cyclists and private car traffic. The Superblocks scenario allocates up to 70 per cent of public space to pedestrians and cyclists. It has demonstrated great potential to reduce levels of harmful emissions, as well as noise.
Vitoria-Gasteiz, a medium-sized Spanish city, has been experiencing rapid urban development, which is changing the scale and the structure of the city. This has resulted in an increase in the length of daily trips. The increase in medium- and long-distance trips has encouraged the use of private cars.

Between 2001 and 2006 trips made on foot decreased from 69.4 to 49.6 per cent while trips by car increased from 20.6 to 36 per cent. The problems caused by the increase in the use of private cars are being addressed by the Sustainable Mobility and Public Space Plan (SMPSP), which has been developed to reduce the environmental impacts of transport and to increase the accessibility of public spaces.
In action 
The Superblocks scheme is one of the strategies developed by the SMPSP. A Superblock is an area of the city where access is only granted to residents’ cars, emergency vehicles and freight distribution vehicles. Within Superblocks, the speed limit is set to a maximum of 30 km/h (in some cases even 20 or 10 km/h) to ensure a safe coexistence of pedestrians, cyclists and private car traffic. Streets are at the pavement level, and so a single surface extends throughout the area, eliminating architectural barriers and improving the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

The definition of Superblocks required the organisation of the city roads into two different networks according to their traffic volumes:
  • A Basic Network, which constitutes 15-20 per cent of the whole network. These roads are characterised by high traffic volumes and are used by public transport vehicles and private motorised vehicles;
  • An Inner Secondary Network, made up of roads that are included in the superblocks and which are primarily used by local traffic.
The intersections between basic roads delimit the 77 Superblocks in which the city has been organised. When all Superblocks are implemented, 71 per cent of public space will be allocated to pedestrians and bicycles. To put this in context, in 2006 only 36 per cent of public space was allocated to pedestrians. Currently, 17 Superblocks have been created in the centre of the city. The implementation of Superblocks is accompanied by other measures such as the reduction of surface vehicle parking, the creation of new regulations for goods delivery, and the improvement of bicycle infrastructure and services.
The impacts of this measure have been assessed in the pilot Superblock around Sancho el Sabio Street. The space allocated to pedestrians within the pilot superblock increased from 45 to 74 per cent of the total surface. As for pollutant emissions, in the pilot Superblock a reduction of 42 per cent of CO2, 42 per cent of NOX and 38 per cent in particulate matters has been achieved. Noise emissions have decreased from 66.5 dBA to 61 dBA.

A survey carried out between September 2012 and June 2013 to monitor the average speed in some streets of the pilot calmed areas showed decreases by 15.8 per cent. Both car drivers and cyclists agreed that the implemented measures made streets safer. In general, the implementation of the Superblock model results in:
  • A reduction in the use of private cars;
  • An increase in the modal share of short distance transport modes, such as cycling and walking;
  • The better integration of modes (within superblocks);
  • More efficient logistic activities (loading and unloading);
  • Better accessibility;
  • Improved citizens' quality of life (e.g. less pollution, improved safety).
Challenges, opportunities and transferability 
The main barriers to the implementation are cultural (well-established behaviour and lifestyle patterns) and financial. In order to overcome the cultural barriers, communication and information campaigns were organised, as well as extensive stakeholder involvement during the development of the scheme. As for the financial barriers, a less resource-demanding approach for the creation of the remaining Superblocks has been adopted. This approach includes traffic calming measures to reduce car speed in the inner streets of the Superblocks, vertical and horizontal signs, traffic light synchronisation, and reducing the number of car parking spaces.

In principle it is possible to transfer the Superblock concept to other cities, but strong political will and the support of all stakeholders (formalised in terms of official agreements) are essential. Furthermore, this measure should be part of an overall sustainable mobility strategy, due to the fact that its impact depends on the implementation of complementary measures to discourage the use of private cars and stimulate behavioural change.
Traffic and demand management
Vitoria Gasteiz
Juan Carlos Escudero
Marco Valerio Salucci
18 Feb 2014
09 Apr 2015