Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Eleventh Report

Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee Visit to Barcelona, Milan, Ferrara and Munich 26th February to 2nd March 2001


Mr Andrew F Bennett, MP (Chairman)
Mr Jeffrey Donaldson, MP
Mr Brian H Donohoe, MP
Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody, MP
Mrs Louise Ellman, MP
Mr Bill O'Brien, MP
Mr Bill Olner, MP
Mr George Stevenson, MP

Dr David Harrison, Clerk
Mr Kevin Lee, Committee Specialist

Mr Tim Pharoah, Specialist Advisor


The Committee began its visit in Barcelona, which has 1½ million inhabitants and is the centre of a metropolitan area in which four million people live. The city has gained renown for its spectacular transformation of the waterfront area and for a series of regeneration projects intended to make high density areas more habitable. New urban spaces have been created by selective demolition and by converting parking and road space into areas for pedestrians.

There is also an impressive area of the old city that has been pedestrianised. It seemed to work well and was popular with tourists and local people as an area to stroll in. It had been extended during recent years by the addition of some streets and squares with very limited vehicle access. Entry to these areas by vehicle was controlled by a system of hydraulic bollards. On the whole the streets were pleasant to walk in and appeared to please local residents and shopkeepers within the restricted areas.

Barcelona's road network has, however, become more congested in recent years as a consequence of economic growth and the increase in car ownership and use. The Committee had a very detailed explanation of the city council's plans to encourage people to use alternative forms of transport to the car and, in particular, how facilities for pedestrians will be improved. We were also given presentations on the architectural development of the city and recent attempts to make the city more friendly to walkers. Barcelona has a vision for improving conditions for walking which includes plans to link the parks and spaces with coherent walking routes and to make the crossing of major traffic arteries easier.

As part of the city's broader transport strategy, there are specific policies to increase the amount of space that is dedicated to pedestrians, including measures to increase pedestrianisation in the historic areas; to expand the number of areas in which traffic is restricted by the use of automatic control systems; and to widen pavements along streets that are heavily used by pedestrians, and particularly those that are popular for shopping. These initiatives are being complemented by actions to improve the quality of the built environment for the pedestrian by discouraging the parking of motorbikes on pavements; extending the green phases for pedestrians at crossings on priority walking routes; accessibility improvements for people with impaired mobility; and providing signs to direct those on foot to stations and places of interest. The key to maintaining high levels of walking in Barcelona, however, is the commitment to making high densities work and avoiding the damage that would come from creating new developments that build in dependence on the car.

During our visit, we saw outdoor moving staircases on pedestrian routes (very expensive); the development of green neighbourhood areas; the covering over of parts of the main ring road to provide a pedestrianised area at street level and a layer of car parking under it (feasible only with European Union grants); and the construction of a pedestrianised central area along the Avinguda Gaudi leading to the Sagrada Familia cathedral. In the total environment of the city these projects were very small scale. We also had a very good presentation in one of the city's traffic control centres. As well as regulating traffic signals and monitoring traffic flows, the centre oversees the areas where traffic is restricted. In an emergency, for example, it could lower the hydraulic bollards limiting access to those areas.

Our attention was drawn to a recent survey which suggested that the proportion of all journeys in Barcelona that were undertaken on foot had increased by one per cent to 37 per cent in the last year. It was not clear how far this was a result of extending pedestrian facilities, better public transport, or increased traffic congestion making walking quicker than car travel.

We also had a chance to meet the local motoring organisation, the Reial Automòbil Club de Catalunya, which supports the approach which the city is taking to transport planning.


On arrival in Milan we had a series of excellent presentations, setting out the city's principles for walkers, and the details of several schemes, including ones promoted by an architect employed by the shopkeepers' association. We also had a careful presentation showing how the authorities were using historical stones and new material from the Lombardy region in their pedestrianisation projects. In common with Barcelona, Milan recognises that in order to ensure that a high proportion of journeys is made on foot, action is required across the city and not just in a number of high profile locations in the centre.

In response to the problems caused by a large number of drivers wanting to enter central Milan during peak periods, the city authority has adopted the Urban Mobility Plan which includes measures to restrict car use in favour of alternative forms of transport. As well as improving public transport links with the suburbs, more 'environmental islands' will be introduced in the inner areas in order to prevent residential districts from being overwhelmed by commuters' cars and to divert through traffic away from these areas and on to major routes. Within these islands, the boundaries of which are defined by the main road network, traffic is restrained in a variety of ways, such as traffic bans in certain streets. Traffic is also calmed through the provision of new street furniture, including flower beds and benches. These steps are combined with other initiatives to develop pedestrianised areas and to create a more attractive environment for walking.

It was also explained that some through traffic had been discouraged from entering central Milan by cutting off one of the main axes through the city centre and forcing drivers to use one of the ring roads. In addition, the trams and metro provide good links into the pedestrianised area, which extends from Piazza San Babila to Largo Cairoli and covers an area of about 65,000 square metres. We were also told how, along new transport links into the city, the environment was being planned to make walking along these links attractive. We then had information on small schemes to improve walking and to reduce car parking in a series of local neighbourhoods. Finally, we had a presentation on reducing pedestrian accidents. The emphasis was on reducing car speeds, rather than corralling pedestrians behind barriers.

We were then able to walk through the main pedestrian area and to admire the way the Duomo and other major buildings were set off by the high quality of design and construction of the pedestrian areas. It was also clear just how well used these areas were, and obviously popular. The use of multi-disciplinary teams, including architects and engineers, to plan and implement these schemes has made a significant contribution to their success. The quality achieved in the design and especially the execution of the pedestrian areas created in the heart of the city was particularly impressive. The architectural coherence of Via Dante had been respected with simple but beautifully constructed paving design and materials, while the square on which La Scala opera house sits has been recreated as a fitting foreground. Stone benches have been provided in response to criticisms of earlier schemes (such as that by the Duomo) where there were no places to rest. To avoid disruption after a project has been completed, pipes and cables are renewed while the pedestrianisation work is being undertaken. The opportunity is also taken to provide additional capacity to meet the future needs of utility companies.

In the evening, we had a very enjoyable and informative meal at the Consul-General's residence with planners, architects and transport experts at which we were able to get a great deal of extra information.


The following morning, we moved on to Ferrara: where we had a further presentation. It was emphasised that the city had benefited from more than 500 years of town planning. It was obvious that Ferrara was not a good choice for our visit, since it had too many exceptional advantages. First, it had town walls which contained an effective area for car restraint. Second, it was very flat. Third, it had a large student population. Fourth, car traffic in the town centre had been restricted for over 30 years and fifth, there was very high bicycle use. The bicycle use was very compatible with walking-so we could see a very civilised town with very good facilities for walkers and cyclists and which had sensible restrictions on car use. We saw elderly ladies in fur coats riding bicycles and cyclists using mobile 'phones. The cycles weaved slowly in and out of the pedestrians.

In the city centre, at least, pedestrians, cyclists and moderate amounts of motorised traffic blended together easily without physical measures to separate the traffic streams or to control pedestrian behaviour. There was also a considerable degree of mutual tolerance shown by those using different forms of transport. The most extraordinary feature of Ferrara is that this happy blend has been achieved largely through a shift of attitudes rather than through traffic engineering. The physical limitations on vehicle movement, for example, are few and unobtrusive. The existing initiatives appeared to be working very successfully and the local planners felt that they were gaining local support for further restrictions on cars in the central areas.


We ended our visit in Munich, which has one of the largest pedestrian areas (approximately 109,000 square metres) in Europe. There we had an excellent presentation and tour showing how pedestrianisation had been achieved in a large area of the city centre. It was claimed that shops in the area were doing more business as a consequence of the scheme. In addition, we had a presentation about Park and Ride schemes and an opportunity to talk to other transport chiefs. We also saw plans to improve pedestrian areas in local neighbourhoods. Finally, we had a chance to hear the opinions of the local Chamber of Commerce. They were very supportive of the city centre pedestrianisation, but not of smaller neighbourhood schemes. We also learned that, as in Barcelona, Munich is busily covering part of its inner ring motorway-to improve traffic flow, but also to offer added walking areas to reconnect areas cut off by the motorway.

Munich's experience highlights the importance of taking a bold and comprehensive approach to planning. First, the pedestrianisation scheme is linked to support for specialised and mainstream retail activities (each having its own pedestrian spine route). In addition, there is no policy of progressively adding to the pedestrian area, which would be opposed by the retailers. Secondly, the provision of good quality and high capacity rail-based public transport is seen as being necessary to create an attractive city centre. Thirdly, the development of commercial and retail facilities outside the centre or beyond the reach of public transport interchanges is strictly controlled. Accessibility is a key feature in the planning of land use and transport with the intention of locating such developments within 600 metres of a railway station and 400 metres of a bus stop. Efforts are also being made to retain residential accommodation in the city centre with around 9,000 people living in the Altstadt (the area within the inner ring road) at present.

The planning of the transport system is founded on the basis of the share of trips undertaken by each mode and targets for changing this. According to the last survey, which took place in 1991, 40 per cent of journeys in Munich were made by car; 27 per cent by public transport; 22 per cent on foot and ten per cent by bicycle. Although it is not intended to increase the proportion of trips made on foot, this is partly in recognition of the city's expansion and the longer distances that will result. The share of all journeys made by public transport and bicycle, however, are both expected to increase at the expense of the car.

As in Barcelona and Milan, we found that Munich pays close attention to the design and quality of public spaces. Pedestrians are not confined by railings or by staggered crossings; attention is paid to paving materials, landscaping and street furniture; and the quality of workmanship is unmatched by most British local authorities. The use of streetscape designers within multi-disciplinary teams was confirmed in all the cities visited and the benefits are most apparent. Civic pride is nurtured by the work that is undertaken to create and improve public spaces and that, in turn, is seen as important for maintaining the importance of cities and holding back the threat of US-style urban sprawl.

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