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Breathing life into the city
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Breathing life into the city
"The challenge we face is that there are almost two million people living in a space no bigger than 100 kilometres squared and it doesn’t rain that often,” says Joan Puigdollers i Fargas, Barcelona city councillor for the environment and urban services. “We also have a lot of tourism and commercial traffic.”
On top of that, the buildings are high-rise, which means pollutants have a hard time dispersing.
Since the heavy industry drifted away, diesel fumes have become the main scourge on air quality. They are, in fact, responsible for 80 percent of the NO levels, and 92 percent of PM10. Air quality surveillance stations spread around the city show levels peak around rush hour, although in general it is coming down.
An efficient metro system, more natural gas-run buses, the ever-improving Bicing network and high parking costs have all done much to bring pollution levels down, but new initiatives are being rolled out to lower emissions even more.
“Two years ago, we began changing the bus network, adding lines that would be more direct, thereby reducing the number of buses on the road,” Puigdollers said. “There are now 17 vertical lines running from the sea to the mountain, eight horizontal lines, running from Llobregat to Besòs, and three diagonal lines. In the coming years, we will increase the number of buses running on clean natural gas by up to 40 percent, and make the rest either diesel hybrids or latest-generation diesel.”
Taxis, which travel the most kilometres in Barcelona, are also being targeted, and there are incentives for drivers to replace older diesel cars with cleaner fuels. There is also a Generalitat-driven strategy under way—the "LIVE Plug in to Barcelona" initiative—to integrate electric vehicles into the city, with a target of 76,000 vehicles by 2015.
A network of recharging points is being built in 60 municipalities throughout Catalunya both in underground public car-parks and on the street for ease of access. Last year Nissan began producing the first 100 percent-electric car for the European market at its plant in Barcelona
Car and moto-sharing schemes are also taking off as the environmentally friendly message gains ground. The Ajuntament-initiated Motit scheme, for example, allows registered users to pick up a zero-emission electric motorbike and travel from A-to-B for a quarterly fee of just €11. The company Avancar has a fleet of around 130 small cars and vans in various car-parks around the city available for hire at €6 an hour or €50 a month, while Social Car puts car-owners and car-needers in touch with each other.
“Traffic coming into the city has reduced considerably in the last few years—by 12.3 percent since 2007, which could be down to the reduction in economic activity and the increase in petrol prices," Puigdollers said. "Traffic inside the city has, however, fallen by 6.7 percent."
Barcelona Port—the busiest port in the Mediterranean—has also received its clean-up orders. According to Ajuntament figures from 2011, there were 19,760 lorry trips to the Port EVERY DAY, 25 percent of which were container transport, but the port now runs almost all of its container fleet on natural gas.
Trees, of course, as well as making some people sneeze, play a key role in off-setting emissions. While London has its royal parks and the odd heath to help inhabitants escape the fumes (even though they don’t always as recent smog reports on the British capital confirm*), studies show that in one year, Barcelona’s trees can eliminate 305 tonnes of atmospheric pollutants—the challenge being, of course, that there just aren’t enough green spaces.
Although the council points to the Collserola as one of the best examples there is of a national park within a city, the fact that it is not actually situated in the city means its effect on counteracting pollution is minimal. The council does however take tree planting and maintenance seriously, with numerous tree-lined roads supporting the surely unsustainable work being done by the tree collective in the Parc de la Ciutadella.
Just a walk around the city lets you know the environment is important to the City Council. Some days it seems there is an almost obsessive-complusive need to upgrade and renew. Air quality is being tackled, but, there also needs to be shift in public attitude away from car-use.
"My department is responsible for 15.3 percent of the City Council's total budget and we invest a lot," Puigdollars says. "Barcelona is known for its innovation and we are constantly improving."
When the outcomes of the plan are assessed next year, it will be interesting to see how far initiatives have gone in cleaning up the air. For now, on those still-air days when the smell of fumes is particularly bad and the spluttering, from both cars and people, at its peak, the best we can do is remember it won't last. And pray for rain.
* Air pollution levels reached the maximum 10 last month, result of inland pollution and powerful dust storms swept in from the Sahara by strong gales, according to the Met Office.
A City Dweller’s Guide to Reducing Air Pollution.
1) Leave the car at home more often
With the metro, Bicing and bus networks, owning a car does seem more and more like a false economy in the city. Plan the quickest routes using the www.TMB.es routeplanner. If you have a Smartphone, download apps that will tell you where the Bicings are or how long the next bus will be. Public transport is safer, cheaper and quicker, and you can read on the move.
2) Keep the car in good condition
If you do drive, get regular tune-ups for your car. Use an energy-conserving oil. Fill up early in the morning, or later in the evening when it is cooler, to avoid gas evaporating in the heat. Inflate car tyres to the recommended pressure to reduce fuel use.
3) Use a car or moto-sharing scheme
If you can't imagine living without a vehicle, then how about combining public transport with a vehicle-sharing scheme.
4) Buy locally sourced products as much as possible.
The '0km' logo on fruit and veg means it hasn’t had to travel across Spain and Europe in big polluting lorries, or fly and sail across the oceans to get here. Whether it's meat, fish, homeware or clothes, buy from local shops and markets as often as you can.
5) Go for less packaging
Plastic, foil and cardboard are bad for the air, even if you recycle! Take your own reusable bag to the shops to avoid carriers, and try and buy fresh more of the time.
6) Use greener products around the house
Many smog-causing particles are given off by the chemicals in paints and cleaning products, so choose environmentally friendlier ones wherever possible.