Barcelona has introduced southern Europe’s largest low-emissions zone (LEZ)–covering 95 square kilometres–in a bid to fight air pollution and reconfigure public space.
Drivers of petrol cars registered before 2000 and diesels made before 2006 will incur a fine of €100-150 (US$110-165) should they enter the zone, which covers the entire metropolitan area and its outer suburbs, but excludes the primary ring-road circling the city.
Launched on 1 January, a grace period will exist for the initial three-months—whereby offenders will be notified but fines will not be processed. This extends to one year for delivery drivers and those who can prove they earn less than €8,000 a year.
The zone will operate Monday to Friday, from 7am-8pm, with 150 cameras installed to monitor vehicles.
Janet Sanz, Barcelona’s deputy mayor for mobility said the move is about the democratisation of public space and public health. “It’s a combination of reducing pollution but reconfiguring public space so that everyone can enjoy it.”
In 2018 Madrid introduced an LEZ in a 4.7 square kilometre section of the old city centre which yielded dramatic results after just one month–traffic was cut by 24 percent, nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels were reduced by 38 percent and CO2 emissions fell by 14 percent.
Barcelona plans to reduce the number of cars on its roads by 125,000 within three years while cutting air pollution by a quarter within four years.
If these targets are not met, Sanz says a London-style congestion charge for all vehicles entering the city could be on the cards.
The LEZ is part of a wider municipal strategy to improve livability in Spain’s second largest city. In 2016 Mayor Ada Colau introduced the city’s first “superblock” in a bid to give the streets back to residents while reducing vehicles.
One superblock consists of nine city blocks where roads have been replaced with cycle lanes, play areas and green spaces.
There are currently six across the city, with 11 more at various stages of completion.
Despite initial protests from some residents and local businesses, the superblocks have proved to be a popular concept and the municipality intends to eventually expand the number to 503.
Natalie Mueller, researcher at Barcelona’s Institute for Global Health said: “We urgently need a paradigm shift away from the car-centred urban planning model and towards a people-centred approach.”
Since 2002 the city has been in violation of air quality limits set by the European Union, with poor air responsible for a yearly average of 424 premature deaths between 2010 and 2017.