Intro: "Getting to Superblocks"
Vitoria-Gasteiz is the administrative capital of the Basque Country, located in the north of Spain. Regarded as a "green" city, it has approximately 50 m2 of green space per capita. The municipality, which is comprised of 63 surrounding villages, is the largest in the region, with a total area of 276.81 km2 and a population of 249,176 inhabitants.
Vitoria-Gasteiz is a pedestrian-scale compact city with a medieval centre. It was one of the first cities in Spain to put in place a network of cycle lanes.
Bicycle lanes map of Vitoria-Gasteiz 1985 © City of Vitoria-Gasteiz
This case shows how a strong commitment towards low-carbon mobility has made Vitoria-Gasteiz a frontrunner city when it comes to implementing the Superblock model.
2006-2007: The Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan
Already in 1998, the actors involved in the Local Agenda 21 realised the upward trend of private car use linked to a foreseen and planned growth of the city. Based on the urban development plans for the next years, up to 9,000,000m2 of new residential areas, with a total of approximately 16,000 homes, were expected.
A 2006 urban mobility survey confirmed the expected growth and indicated an increase in car use. Out of all the journeys made within the city, 49.9% were made on foot (56% in 1996), 36.6% by car (29% in 1996), 7.9% with public transport, and 4% by cycling. The proportion of journeys of less than five kilometres long that were made by private car was 36% in 2006, while those made by bicycle increased steadily from 1.4% in 2001 to 3.3% in 2006.
Based on the survey, a "Diagnosis report on the status of sustainability and the environment in Vitoria-Gasteiz" was published in 2006. One of the main conclusions of this report was that it would be relatively easy to establish a new public space and mobility scheme to minimise the negative environmental and social effects of car-based mobility in the city.
The following actors were involved during this time:
The Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council was the central actor in this case. All political parties in the City Council were involved in the mobility-related discussions and processes.
The Centre of Environmental Studies (CEA) is a municipal autonomous entity whose mission is to foster the municipality's sustainable development, such as in the Local Agenda 21 and educational projects.
The Barcelona Urban Ecology Agency (BCN ECO) played an essential role in the planning of the Superblock approach by providing technical support.
The Citizens' Forum for Sustainable Mobility of Vitoria-Gasteiz was a platform that allowed for the participation of different stakeholders, civil society groups, municipal technicians, and political representatives in the defining of a scenario for the sustainable mobility model.
2008-2009: Reorganisation of the urban bus network
The most important factor in this phase is urban growth: Between 2000 and 2008 the population of Vitoria-Gasteiz grew by 7% and two new residential neighbourhoods were developed. As a direct consequence, an increase in car emissions per capita, from 2.3t CO2 in 2000 to 2.8t CO2 in 2006, was measured. In addition, there was a low use rate of public transport. The bus system was especially considered to be non-competitive with private cars, due in part to the low frequency of buses, which would come only every 15 to 30 minutes.
Against this background, in 2008 the City Council aimed for public transport to become a reasonable alternative to the use of private cars. The improvement of the public transport network consisted of the introduction of two tram lines (in 2008) and the restructuring of the bus network (in 2009). The modernisation of the bus network involved a new design of the routes, the reduction of the number of lines, changes in the location of bus stops and the possibility to transfer between lines.
Public transport network © Asier Sarasua Garmendia
These measures increased the speed of public transport and allowed for coverage of the newly built neighbourhoods. The fleet was further adapted to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The measures resulted in a significant increase in the number of users; during the period between November 2008 and January 2010, the number of journeys by bus and tram increased by 43.5%.
Resident associations and citizens were consulted on the implementation of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan. The Citizens' Forum for Sustainable Mobility of Vitoria-Gasteiz interacted mainly with the City Council, but also with municipal departments (see the Social Innovation box).
Local media was a key actor that provided meaningful information and large coverage of the policy measures for several months, including a media campaign by the City Council (see Social Innovation box).
The University of the Basque Country was strongly involved in the personalised information campaign that was carried out by volunteers (see Social Innovation box).
2009-2010: Pilot superblock Sancho el Sabio
Before the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) was agreed upon, more than 70% of public roads were reserved exclusively for the use of private cars - despite nearly 70% of journeys in Vitoria-Gasteiz being carried out on foot. The SUMP aimed to extend space for pedestrians. In addition, due to the impact of traffic, more than one third of the population lived with higher noise levels than recommended by the World Health Organization and private cars substantially contributed to CO2 emissions in the city.
Against this background, the SUMP foresaw the introduction of a so-called Superblock. The first Superblock was planned as a pilot site in the "Sancho el Sabio" neighbourhood, before extending the model to the entire city.
To support the changes in this Superblock, a new parking policy was introduced in the city centre to dissuade people from using private cars. The new parking policy increased parking prices for existing parking slots and transformed free parking areas into chargeable ones.
Complementary policies included the expansion of the cycling network with 13 kilometres of new bike lanes in 2009 as well as in 2010, through the implementation of the Cyclist Mobility Master Plan. The Centre of Environmental Studies launched an environmental education programme, which involved the school community (20.000 students from 30 schools) in this new model of sustainable mobility. Cycling courses were organised in schools to enhance youth population competences for cycling on streets and interurban roads.
Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council: All political groups in the City Council supported the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP). Neighbourhood and shopkeeper associations were highly active against the organisation of the new parking policy. About 33 neighbourhood associations gathered approximately 13.000 signatures against it. They also manifested their position through street actions and local media.
As a member of the Citizens' Forum for Sustainable Mobility, the local cyclist association "Gasteizko Bizikleteroak" interacted with a number of city stakeholders and associations. They played a key role in supporting the SUMP and several individual measures. They also expressed their support in the local media.
Local media provided meaningful information and coverage of the different measures that were adopted in the SUMP. Journalists were well-informed voices that mainly supported and fostered a positive public opinion regarding the Superblocks and SUMP measures.
2012-2014: Car restrictions in the central superblock
In 2012 Vitoria-Gasteiz was awarded the "EU Green Capital" award and several measures related to sustainable mobility were adopted in the city. The city, for example, launched an innovative scheme featuring bikes as a sustainable form of mobility. The entire network of civic centres hosted numerous workshops and activities for all ages aimed at encouraging active modes of mobility, such as walking and cycling. During this year, thousands of citizens were involved in a range of activities related to environmental protection and raising public awareness about the environmental challenges facing the city.
Until 2012, about 300-400 vehicles per day still drove in the restricted areas of the first Superblock without authorisation. In 2012, therefore, the City Council took additional measures to enforce restrictions on private car access to the "Sancho el Sabio" Superblock by installing video-cameras, putting up information signs, and launching a public information campaign.
Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council: All political groups in the City Council, in line with their support of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, approved the measures.
Continuous support came also from the Citizens' Forum for Sustainable Mobility of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Local media provided information and expressed a positive opinion about the enforced measures, but it also covered critical reactions from residents and shopkeepers.
2016-2019: Replication and adaptation of the superblock model
After the 2008 financial crisis, the economic resources available for new infrastructures in the city had substantially decreased. Consequently, the City Council had to adapt the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan in order for the replication of the Superblock model to be feasible. Tensions between pedestrians and cyclists were a continuous topic, especially in the pedestrian area of the city centre.
Another concern was road safety: recent accidents involving cars and children saw residents protest for safer streets. This ultimately paved the way for the development of Superblocks in other neighbourhoods.
Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council and the Centre of Environmental Studies supported the Superblock approach.
Further support continued to come from the Citizens' Forum for Sustainable Mobility of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
The local cyclist association "Gasteizko Bizikleteroak", was a voice in the media that was advocating for environmental-friendly mobility and demanding safer conditions for cyclists. They made contributions to the new circulation regulation that aimed to restrict the use of bikes on the pavements and they provided expert support for designing new bike lanes in the city.
2019-2020: Replication of the superblock model
Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council and the Centre of Environmental Studies (CEA) supported the Superblock approach. The CEA carried out assessments of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, in cooperation with the Agencia de Ecología Urbana.
Further support continued to come from the Citizens' Forum for Sustainable Mobility of Vitoria-Gasteiz and especially its member, the local cyclist association "Gasteizko Bizikleteroak", which was a voice in the media that advocated for environmental-friendly mobility.
A new pedestrian's association "Camina Gasteiz" became very active in denouncing traffic norm violations and demanded more security on the streets. This new association joined the Citizens' Forum for Sustainability Mobility and they worked with other local associations to launch public support actions for the Superblock approach.
To date, the development has started on 20 of the 77 Superblocks foreseen in the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) from 2008. Vitoria-Gasteiz is continuously implementing the Superblock model across the city. Currently, five interventions are planned to be implemented in the period 2021-2023 in the Zabalgana neighbourhood.
The implementation of the previously mentioned activities has already proven to be significant, resulting in a number of positive impacts. According to the 2006-2016 evaluation report of the SUMP and the Cyclist Mobility Master Plan of Vitoria-Gasteiz:
- Vitoria Gasteiz has seen the development of a new mobility paradigm in the city, manifested in a shift in transport mode used for commuting.
- The environmental quality of the city has improved, including improved air quality, a reduction in total CO2 emissions, lowered noise pollution, as well as decreased congestion and fuel consumption.
In recognition of the city's effort, Vitoria-Gasteiz has received several awards, including the title of "European Green Capital" (2012) as well as the "UN Global Green City Award" (2019). The SUMP was further rated as a best practice example by UN-Habitat.
In the exploration section you will be able to take a look at some alternative policy scenarios in the case of Vitoria-Gasteiz – and how they have been modelled using Agent-based Modelling (ABM). Before you explore the videos, find out what ABM is about in the introductory video below.
Now, you should be ready for the policy scenarios. For the Vitoria-Gasteiz case you can explore a baseline video run, replicating what really happened in the case, as well as three alternative scenarios. Each scenario looks at the impact of a specific measure or event that deviates from what has factually happened in the past.
We hope this Policy Sandbox Tool storyboard provided some interesting insights and ideas for supporting energy and mobility transitions.
For a final refection on the ABM models that you have seen in the exploration section, see the video below.
For more information on the cases you can take a look at the following resources:
- SMARTEES website – Cluster on Urban mobility in superblocks.
- Our SMARTEES video about Sustainable Mobility in Superblocks: Vitoria-Gasteiz.
- Multiple videos have been made about the Superblocks in Vitoria-Gasteiz, both in English and in Spanish – heralding it as the champion in establishing this concept.
- For analyses and results across the SMARTEES project, look at our reports and deliverables.
- Find two comprehensive studies about Vitoria-Gasteiz's approach; one is a review of the SUMP, the other is a programmatic paper on the idea of a human-scale city.