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Roma Ciclabile or ?

May 14, 2010

I was at the Campidoglio yesterday for the presentation of Rome’s “Piano Quadro della Ciclabilita’”, the plan to promote and support bicycling as an alternative to motorized transport.  I went with hopes of seeing tangible proposals that would allow the city to catch up with many of its northern sisters where biking is the preferred mode of transit for many.

May 13 was also international “Bike to Work day”, although I saw little evidence of this.  My own comute from home to studio is a ten-minute ride; if I were to take a car and park it illegally it would take at least 20 minutes, longer still if I were to look for legal parking. Yesterday I saw, as always, at least about 150 cars blocking streets, double-parked, parked on sidewalks, on crosswalks, forcing bikers and pedestrians to weave through traffic. Yet when I arrived at the Campidoglio and locked my bicycle to a pole (no bike-racks for the municipal offices and Capitoline museums) I was immediately approached by police instructing me (with much appreciated irony) to park elsewhere.  “This space is reserved for the mayor; I didn’t realize he was biking to work today.” Useless to explain that Alemanno not biking to work on Bike to Work Day when he is that same day also presenting a plan to promote cycling, is hugely hypocritical and astoundingly bad PR.

The Piano Quadro della Ciclabilita’ presentation was little more than an opportunity for politicians to make claims of environmental sensitivity.  Much of what was said about the advantages of urban cycling, the problems of street safety (Rome has one of the worst mortality rates in Europe from accidents) and the opportunities for the green economy was perfectly valid, but also gratuitous when the administration’s responsibility is to solve the problems, not point them out.  The cyclists in the audience were visibly and understandably angered at being instrumentalized by politicians, ready for photo opportunities “participating” with “citizen groups”.  As always, the conference began late, the headlining Environmental Alderman Fabio de Lillo announcing he would arrive later, no sign of the Mayor, and after two hours it was clear that the debate with associations would be cut short or eliminated entirely. I had to leave, frustrated at having heard nothing concrete.

What did I expect? Nothing more. What could I have hoped for? Quite simply, firm commitment to improve the city of Rome for cyclists and pedestrians (and thus for everyone):

  1. Commitment to enforce traffic laws, fining and removing from circulation cars parked illegally, documenting speeding violations, telephone use, etc. etc. including violations by state officials (my collection of documentation of Rome’s police committing such infractions is exhaustive).  This alone would make the streets of Rome significantly safer without the cost and delay of creating bike paths. And it doesn’t require approving any legislation; just enforcing the legislation already on the books.  Yes, it’s absurd we have to even mention this, but in Rome enforcing the laws is at best an optional.
  2. Creation of Zone 30 throughout the historical center and in specific streets around Rome. Statistically, the mortality rate would drop dramatically. Strange that Maurizio Coppo, head of the national street safety council didn’t even mention the concept, common throughout Europe, as a solution.
  3. Creation of bike racks throughout the city (such as outside the city offices, schools, commercial areas, etc.) The claims made by the city about accomplishments in this area are laughable to say the least.
  4. A city law allowing bike parking in condominium courtyards;  this had been mentioned in the press but seems to have dropped out of the law as proposed.
  5. Clear intermodal transit exchange rules allowing bikes on the Metro and trains all the time, everyday, with improvements to service to make this effectively possible.
  6. Creation of a bike-sharing program. The one that is constantly held up as a symbol of Rome’s green credentials is nothing more than another bike rental agency, not nearly as efficient as dozens that have existed for years.
  7. And if they want to extend bike paths, that’s fine too, but show us the money!

As I left the conference and went to retrieve my bike, locked to a fence out of the way on the edge of the Capitoline hill I pass another “event”, the inauguration of the Smart (brand) electric car.  There it was, parked in all its glory in the pedestrian zone of Michelangelo’s Campidoglio square, where hours earlier I was told to remove my bicycle.  This may be as close to the green economy as Rome can get, still holding on to the myth of the car as the only respectable form of transportation, now under the alibi of “zero emissions” (and the electricity is produced by what 100% renewable source, scusi?) . This is where the Mayor was, not at the presentation of the cycle plan but at the presentation of another lethal weapon ready to enter Rome’s traffic jam.

car belonging to Vice President of City Council, parked in pedestrian zone

At National Bike Day in Rome, you could pedal a fixed bike and use the power generated to run a toy CAR!

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