“Barcelona could lead the challenge of mobility in the twenty-first century”
“It is fundamental to plan mobility and urban development in an integrated way”
“I think it is important to reflect on rural mobility”
Holder of a PhD in architecture specialised in urban planning, professor at the Department of Urbanism and Regional Planning (UOT) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), and member of the Urbanism Research Group (GRU), Joan Moreno is part of the academic management of CARNET, the mobility hubpromoted by UPC, SEAT and Volkswagen.
What role does mobility play in urban planning design in a city like Barcelona and its metropolitan area?
The issue of mobility is at the heart of contemporary urban planning, which has tried to incorporate new modes of transport into consolidated cities since the mid-nineteenth century. This is something that is apparently contradictory, as it consists in adapting what is changeable over what is permanent. Now, we are again facing this situation 150 years later.
How is traditional urban planning adapting to the new mobility?
Each model of city is linked to a model of mobility. Private vehicles have enabled the colonisation of new territories, and the urban development of these territories has been a consequence of the new travel habits. Currently, new agents are being incorporated into the system, such as electric vehicles, but cities change very slowly. In this way, adaptation begins in a restrictive way, through regulations for use and circulation, to achieve progressive integration.
Will the increasing number of scooters change cities?
I don’t think that electric scooters will change the way that we understand the city. As a mode of personal mobility, they are still an evolution of the bicycle, and we have image archives that show the Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona full of bicycles as early as 1908. In the end, users select a mode of transport based on what cities offer at each time and depending on which is most convenient, efficient and cheap. It may seem that sustainable urban mobility is a new concept, but that is not the case.
Electric vehicles seem to be here to stay and they are another element that affects mobility…
Private vehicles influence the urban space in three ways: acoustic and atmospheric pollution, which electric vehicles resolve due to their nature; inclusion, as access to this type of transport is expensive, and this leads us to propose that we could have a public fleet of electric vehicles that people could use without needing to purchase them. And the third is space. With autonomous vehicles and carsharing, we would free some of this space, which is one objective of cities.
Urban planning as we know it emerged in the nineteenth century thanks to Ildefons Cerdá. Could Barcelona lead the planning of cities in the twenty-first century?
This city has always been a test field for new trends in urban planning. And I think that Barcelona could lead the challenge of mobility in the twenty-first century, although some of the tools that have been implemented by the government bodies are questionable. There is a tactical urban planning that is carried out with limited resources, that requires only a short execution time and is reversible, it seems to be designed more for politics than as an effective trial of the proposals. We need a comprehensive, systemic view beyond the design of the public space and the transport network. Nevertheless, there are positive elements such as the model of superblocks, which is a benchmark globally, and some notable initiatives in connection networks at metropolitan level.
With the increase in bicycles and scooters, individual transport seems to be winning over collective. Will this be the trend in coming years?
This is a question of efficiency. People choose the system that best meets their mobility needs in terms of time, cost and accessibility. Individual systems have many advantages for routes within the city. In fact, scooters are mainly attracting public transport users. That is where the trend lies.
Could the pandemic accelerated this process?
Yes, it could be having an impact, but this kind of single-person vehicle like bicycles and scooters can also form part of the public transport system if governments decide to manage fleets, they are not exclusive models.
It seems that vehicles are the focus of debate in urban mobility. Could this mean that pedestrians lose out in the design of the development of cities?
A good exercise is to study the budgets invested in mobility according to the various systems. What percentage is allocated to infrastructure for pedestrians compared to the percentage for private vehicles? There is an enormous imbalance in volume, and this is symptomatic. In addition, we frequently use the concept of smart city, but I am very critical of this. Is the application of technology to mobility going to substantially transform the way we plan the city? I am not sure, although I recognise its advantages for the efficiency of the urban system.
With the increase of last mile transport, what measures should be taken to balance the efficiency of this activity without detriment to the rest of the actors in the system?
The urban context is not uniform. There is not one Barcelona, there are many. Its limits do not even end in the metropolitan area. Therefore, there are no uniform ways to resolve transport. The last mile service is very interesting for low density areas with a lack of services and can attract the dispersed population to intermodal nodes. In the dense city, in the centre of Barcelona, we cannot overlook this system. The superblock project is complementary to a network of logistic units for distributing goods. Regarding the conflict between various modes of transport in the public space, compatibility depends basically on speed.
What is your view of mobility in Barcelona in the next ten years? What new factors should be considered to plan its development?
There are two key aspects to consider: intermodality and autonomous mobility. Intermodality determines and will determine the mobility of the future, and the easier it is to combine different modes of transport, the better. The autonomous vehicle could optimise travel and space. I think we will move towards a blended system, with the advantage that autonomous vehicles will become a space in which to carry out leisure and work activities, as well as a means of transport. This could promote their integration into cities.
We focus on urban mobility, but little is said about rural mobility.
That’s true, and 70% of the region is not urban. I think it is important to reflect on rural mobility and this is something that we try to transmit to students at the UPC. A few weeks ago, we did a workshop with architecture students in the Berguedà area. We work on habitability in the rural environment, but also on mobility in these types of environments. In this context, it was proposed to promote mobile services, to help inhabitants to access goods or services that are no longer offered in small towns. This is something that people are asking for and that contributes to reducing the dependence on private vehicles, because you do not force these inhabitants to constantly travel to larger municipalities.
Your doctoral theses analyses the concept of corners in mobility and regional planning. Why did you choose this subject?
It arose from an exhibition in Forum 2004 in which the concept of the architectural and regional corner was analysed. The curator, Manuel de Solà-Morales, proposed that corners are the architectural expression of transport flow. It is a space that regulates the flow of people and vehicles, but also an area that hosts all kinds of urban activities. I was interested in addressing this topic from a regional perspective, which is how the thesis emerged.
In this thesis, you study the model of Dutch suburbs of Randstad. Are there patterns or models in its urban planning that could be applied in Catalonia?
Indeed, Randstad, which has six million and a half inhabitants, is a polycentric metropolis in which the urban roles are divided: Rotterdam is the port; Amsterdam the airport and tourist centre; the Hague is the administrative capital. This is one of its values. And they are very efficient with transport between the cities. In addition, they are very efficient at integrating mobility and urban planning. The political, social and economic agents of Randstad have created a regional model of consensus, that is, a social and political pact shared by all, whereas here we are more in the line of internal competition. In my opinion, it is fundamental to plan mobility and urban development in an integrated way.