On the road
In honor of this blog’s selection by Guardian Cities for the top city blog’s list, I am updating and reposting some past blogs, starting with this one written exactly one year ago but as relevant as ever. Update: the connection between the new Ponte della Musica bridge and the riverside walkway/bikeway below has been completed. The ramp from the bike path below to the road above is completed but still fenced off inexplicably. And, thanks to last weekend’s work by Retake Roma (along with participation of association’s like Tevereterno and various Rome-based university programs), the river banks are cleaner than ever. But…
The last step always seems the hardest in this city. New pavement is laid, at great expense, in pedestrian areas, but we can’t keep cars from driving over it. Great buildings are constructed, or restored, but we can’t keep the walls free from illegal posters or the sidewalk in front of them free for people to walk. Fuksas’ Nuvola is nearing completion, at a cost of well over 300 million euros, but the walk to it from the metro still takes you along the frightening edge of a high-speed road with no sidewalk, right through a roadside gas station! Interested new didactic signs have been exhibited in the well-constructed viewing area overlooking the Circus Maximus, but they are too far away to read through the gate, which has yet to be unlocked, although the project was completed years ago. A drinking fountain placed a decade ago in front of the Arch of Janus runs continuously, but no one has ever been able to drink from it because a fence keeps the public out.
It has been over a year since the inauguration of the impressive pedestrian bridge dubbed Ponte della Musica, design by London-based firm Buro Happold in collaboration with Powell-Williams Architects which I have written about previously. The parking garage at the end of Via Guido Reni seems open, although cars are still piled up on the sidewalk and pedestrian crossing all around. The expensive work has been done; now it’s time for the easy stuff. Like a safe way to cross the street.
Yesterday evening, at the end of a long day with architecture students which began at St. Peter’s, took us through EUR and Ostia Lido, and ended at Zaha Hadid’s Maxxi, we experienced the current state of the pedestrian route, and it was pretty disappointing. The sidewalk alongside MAXXI, in fact all the way from Piano’s Auditorium to the river, is in poor shape, and the intersections were blocked by cars as usual. Nothing indicates the “cultural axis” that is potentially so compelling. Simple street furniture or distinctive paving or signage would be a plus.
Once you arrive at the river, the redesigned Piazza above the parking garage looks ok but doesn’t lend itself to continuity; to get across the street requires elaborate zigzagging, a 20 meter detour off axis to a cross-walk with a light which is green for pedestrians and turning cars at the same time, a formula for disaster. Safely on the bridge, the views are great but there is still no connection down to the river banks, which are still a construction site.
The worst of it is at the other end of the bridge, though, where the axis continues to Luigi Moretti’s Fencing Hall and the other sports facilities of the Foro Italico. Street illumination is dim and four lanes of cars speed at upwards of 80 km/hour (despite the city-wide 50 kph limit). There is a faded crosswalk, and no light, between you and the bus stop. Needless to say, getting across is terrifying. I was not surprised to read that a pedestrian was killed by a car on this road late last night, adding to the already huge number of pedestrian and cyclist victims of killer cars in this city.
I can imagine a number of traffic calming solutions for this site, a traffic light being the most obvious, but not the most interesting or effective. The goal is to slow down cars, and discourage drivers from even using them in the city where they already wreak havoc. Narrowing the road to one lane in each direction, with lots of obstacles like trees, bollards, benches, etc. around which cars have to navigate, would have the effect of giving the street back to people. The only vehicles that should be allowed straight through are public buses, which brings me to the final part of the story.
Of course this location, where thousands of cars hurtle themselves toward the historical center on a Saturday night, is part of a larger problem. They go knowing they can park for free just about anywhere, or for a negligible 1 euro an hour. And they know the alternative is a transit system that fails o perform to standards.
A city like Rome cannot continue to accept a bus system which has vehicles, drivers, and even some sophisticated software but absolutely no dependability. We were trying to get a 271, an important bus, which connects Prati and the Centro Storico, in the early evening on a Saturday. You can make out the bus stop in the Google Street View image above on the left. When there are games at the nearby stadium the sidewalk is taken over by cars so you have to walk in the street to get near the bus stop. The electronic readout showed no trace of the 271, and when I connected my iphone to the ATAC real-time server the results were, well, disconcerting. No 271, and very few other buses. As we attempted to use the few buses running to get to our destination, I captured this listing for a busy stop in the heart of the bustling neighborhood of Prati. This is a sad state of affairs which Rome has to rectify.