Projects

There are many fascinating research ideas circulating at City Lab Barcelona, and often we do not have enough people to develop these ideas and turn them into a research project. Many of these ideas are scoped for an ICTA Masters project, others might be for a PhD Program. If you are interested in developing any of these projects yourself, or working as part of a team on these topics, please reach out to us.  

Public Life & Public Space

School Streets Program 

To meet the physical distancing recommendations during the COVID pandemic, the City of Barcelona allowed schools and parents to temporarily block vehicle traffic in front of schools during school drop off and pick up. Streets were blocked with a movable barricade made of metal or plastic. While the program was initially intended only for the 2020-2021 school year, in 2021-2022 many parents have informally continued with temporary school streets program. The position from the City has been mixed and ambiguous, giving the appearance of tacit approval, while formally, the permission for the School Streets program has been discontinued. What are the impacts of this program? How many schools have continued in 2021-2022 that began the year prior? How many schools have discontinued? What is the formal policy from the City and what are the arguments in favour and against its continuation? Can we measure the traffic impact of these temporary closures? How can we measure the benefits? This project would aim to provide an overview and assessment of the program, with policy recommendations about how it might be formalized.  The project would interview city officials, parents and members of the school community to assess the project. Participatory methods with neighbourhood members and motorists might also be valuable.  

Urban Cycling

The long-term impacts of Bicing subscriptions among teenage youth 

Experts claim that bike sharing programs may introduce non-cyclists to urban cycling, allowing them to gradually become comfortable with riding a bike in the city, gain confidence and potentially shift mobility patterns over the long run. Cities with highly successful bike sharing programs such as Barcelona have seen cycling increase throughout the city at the same time, and this increase in cycling has paralleled introduction of bike sharing programs. There seems to be some connection between bike sharing and overall cycling use, however the degree to which there are synergies has not been well quantified or studied. In particularly, no one has tested the “bridge hypothesis” in which bike sharing serves as a bridge for non-cyclists to introduce them to cycling and foster long term cycling habits. This research project proposes testing the bridge hypothesis with adolescent youth, aged 16-19. Teenagers and adolescents are beginning to develop their urban transportation habits and influencing their choices today may have a lasting impact on the city for a generation. How might the bike share programs engage with the adolescent population to create loyal membership and use?  Should adolescents have special bike sharing tariffs in order to attract them to the service? Would a discount for youth translate into life-time membership and therefore be a smart strategy, both in terms of the service provider, but also for the city? Is it true that bike sharing serves as a catalyst to change mobility patterns and promote active transportation?  These questions would be best answered in partnership with the bike sharing managers, in which we would develop an experimental framework that would compare the transit habits for adolescents randomized into three groups: Group (A) would receive a discounted tariff; Group (B) would be offered free and unlimited services and Group (C) would be a control group. This would allow us to empirically test the bridge hypothesis, estimate the long-term impacts of bike sharing on mobility patterns and also estimate the cost-effectiveness of the discounted rates for the long term revenue stream of the bike sharing service provider.  

The Cycling Gender Gap Observatory 

Surveys and studies on the cycling gender gap point at safety concerns (Sersli et al., 2021) and at women’s preference towards protected cycling infrastructure (Aldred et al., 2017). In 2021 we conducted a research project aimed to measure the evolution of the gender gap in Barcelona. Data collected aligned with previous studies that placed the gender gap on cycling in 2:1 or 2 male cyclists for every female cyclist (Lind et al 2021). In addition to cyclists, we looked at gender differences among bike share users, electric scooters, micro mobility users, and cycle food delivery. The data was collected via direct observation in different cycling infrastructure designs in order to see if street design supposed any variation in the gender gap. We counted people cycling in a busy street with no cycling infrastructure, a shared lane of cycling and motorised traffic, protected lanes in one and two directions placed in the center and in one side of the street. We are looking for students interested in continuing this research so that we can measure changes year to year on the gender gap in urban cycling. No experience in cycling or urban research is necessary. This would provide valuable, original and timely data to inform cycling policies. 

Bike Theft  

The risk of bike theft is often cited as a reason for not purchasing a bike. Fear of bike theft severely limits cycling mobility in many cities. Those who enjoy recreational cycling with expensive bikes rarely use their high-end bike for daily mobility, citing the fear of bike theft. Fear of bike theft also has motivated city governments and private ventures to invest in protected bike structures. However larger and permanent bike structures are difficult to replicate at scale because of their size, expense, and extensive public space that some may occupy. Fear of bike theft has also been cited by parents as a reason why they are unwilling to let their children ride their bikes to school. But are these fears of bike theft justified? What are the patterns in bike theft in the city? How many bikes are stolen per year? Why types of bikes? Which neighbourhoods and under which conditions?  What is the probability of bike theft per neighbourhood? Or by type of bike? Or time of day? This research project would aim to summarize what is known about the bike theft problem in Barcelona. Then, it would develop a field experiment with locked and unlocked bikes to learn about the risk of bike theft in various neighbourhoods. We would like to explore a research design that would leave real bikes to see if or how long it takes for the bike to be stolen. The expenses associated with the (potentially stolen) bikes would be covered by the research program, however the student would need to lead the research design and implementation. We may need to think about multiple research designs and strategies to efficiently use our resources, working with both data reported by owners of stolen bikes as well as experimental data that we may generate ourselves using field experiments and direct observation.  

Urban Experiments

A Tactical Urbanism Experiment 

Tactical urbanism – implementing low-cost and temporary changes to the urban environment – has received lots of attention in the last few years. Tactical interventions are highly amenable to experimental research precisely because they are removable, temporary, and cheap. This project would aim to develop an experimental assessment of a tactical urbanism intervention.  For example, does street paint at intersections reduce vehicle traffic or speed? What are the impact of orange cones on traffic volumes, composition and speed? How much traffic is diverted or do vehicle speeds slow down? We would be interested in working with a PhD or Masters student on a tactical urbanism project that would carefully measure the urban changes produced by their tactical intervention.  

Exploring Alternatives to Congestion Charging: Telecommuting Taxes 

Like many metropolitan regions around the world, Barcelona is exploring congestion charging as a strategy to reduce vehicle traffic entering the city. Dramatic reductions in vehicular use are necessary to met climate change objectives and air quality standards. However congestion charging is politically unpalatable and may disproportionately hurt lower income households or small businesses who rely on private motor vehicles to enter the city. This research project aims to explore an alternative to congestion charging, which we are currently calling, the telecommuting tax or virtual toll. The idea is to progressively phase in a tax on large businesses that do not support telecommuting opportunities for their employees. Therefore this policy would aim to support workers with more flexibility in the workplace, and support a transition to more telecommuting that could improve air quality and quality of life. The program would begin with a reporting scheme that would ask employees to report the commuting patterns of their employees – thereby generating valuable data for transportation planners. Eventually, this reporting system would evolve into a tax to businesses who chose not to provide telecommuting options to their workers. The rationale is that businesses should be charged for the external environmental costs generated by their employees. Details on the proposal for the Telecommuting Tax or Virtual Toll can be found here (in Catalan). 

We are currently looking for a Masters student who would be interested in working as part of a team on this project. We would like to develop the idea into a policy brief that can be circulated with regional planners in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area. Skills in environmental economics, traffic modeling and public policy would be valuable, although they are not essential.