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The Eternally Cyclable City

July 5, 2008

I’m a militant biker. Not the loud Harley-riding type, but (worse) the self-righteous self-propelled urban two-wheeler. I ride a Collalti, the bike of choice of many centro storico low-impact commuters. Locally made by Danilo Collalti on Via Pellegrino, these bikes are light but sturdy.  He doesn’t just sell (or rent) the bikes, but provides ongoing service, usually for free or a minimum charge. Danilo’s shop is at Via del Pellegrino 80/82, just down the street from Campo de’ Fiori.

I make the ride from my home on the Janiculum down to the historic center daily if not more often.  Of course, it’s the return trip up the hill that hurts, especially as I weave around and breathe behind motor vehicles parked on or belching their way up Via Garibaldi. An article in the New York Times last year called attention to the bikability of Rome, citing the anti-pollution laws.  It’s true that there are days when cars are banned and having a bike comes in handy, but the real advantage is being able to blast through the pedestrian streets without feeling like a jerk, and being able to park with no risk of fines.  Well, almost no risk.  A few months ago I locked my Collalti to a post in Piazza Collegio Romano, just outside a police station (thinking that it would be safe there).  An hour later it was gone so, fearing another theft, I walked in to the police station to report it. There was my bike, cut lock and all. They had not caught a thief red-handed, but rather cut the lock themselves, citing a law I should have know about that prohibits locking bikes to the post that bears police signage.  I couldn’t help but point out that just down the street outside Palazzo Grazioli there were cars parked on the sidewalk at all hours with their engines running, causing far more damage than my little Collalti, but then a few days later the resident of that palazzo, Silvio  Berlusconi, was elected Prime Minister.  I have digressed.

Two initiatives in recent years should encourage more biking and less driving in Rome, but I have my doubts. One is the creation of bike paths. Great. Except that the main one is deep below the city streets along the Tiber river and even if you deem it worthwhile to go all the way down to cover a  kilometer or two and come all the way up (carrying your bike up urine-stinking stairs, in most cases), the path itself is made of the bumpiest of cobblestones. And the worst of it is that during the summer months when more people might think about using bikes, the city sponsors a riverside festival consisting of temporary bars and cafes constructed on top of the path.

The second initiative is a public bike sharing program that I’ll write about in a future blog, when I have had a chance to evaluate it.

Image: Bike Shop of Danilo Collalti, Via Pellegrino, Rome  © Tom Rankin

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