Less Can Be More: Pruning Street Networks for Sustainable City Making

Javier Argota Sánchez-Vaquerizo, Dirk Helbing

Current trends in urban planning aim at the reduction of space for private vehicles to promote alternative mobility, more diverse activities on streets, and reduced pollution for healthier cities. In our study, we evaluate a number of “what-if scenarios” of “city pruning” regarding traffic restrictions for Barcelona by means of realistic, agent-based computer simulations in order to identify their impact on travel performance and the environment. Comparing existing plans designed by the City of Barcelona with variants of those, we find positive counterintuitive effects related to “Braess’ Paradox”, which result in the reduction of emissions (-8% of main pollutants) and traffic congestion (-14% of travel time) solely by closing some streets to motor vehicles. These findings indicate a further potential to improve the quality of life in cities using positive counterintuitive effects of street repurposing and it is an opportunity for participatory and sustainable city-making beyond the ongoing public debate.

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