City news: Rome, cycling capital in the making

28 October 2020

How is it possible to admire the journey unless you can compare it to its starting point? With only 1% of trips made by bike, 620 cars for every 1,000 inhabitants and a total of 500,000 motorbikes, Rome didn’t exactly have a head start in the cycling revolution. However, one might say the same for Amsterdam or Copenhagen if we were only to travel back one generation or so. These cities have since made a name for themselves as biking capitals, and Rome is planning to become one soon too.

Learning from the best to make the transition permanent

When the pandemic hit, the team in Rome capitalised on the many exchanges that were happening online between cities discussing measures to face the crisis. “We have absorbed the best that European cities could offer,” says Francesco Iacorossi, active mobility expert, project manager at the city’s public transport operator, Roma Servizi per la Mobilità, and the first Cycling Mayor of Rome. Directly inspired by fellow European cities, Rome approved in record time the creation of 150km of new bike lanes, allocating €3.2 million to the project.

Map of new cycling paths in Rome

Rome’s lanes are ‘transitory’, not temporary, not pop-ups. The choice of wording is important. “Temporary implies that it takes a second to remove them,” explains Iacorossi. While ‘transitory’ holds the idea of a transition towards something else, the new lanes therefore become a first step. “The programme is to improve them as projects and construction sites, with maximum safety for all road users,” adds Virginia Raggi, the Mayor of Rome “to finally classify them as permanent.”

The lanes can, and will, be improved in a second stage in terms of pavement and security, for example by creating segregated paths instead of painted ones. “All lanes have room for improvement,” confesses Iacorossi “but the important thing is to give a signal that cyclists are an integral part of the urban mobility scape.”

Bringing cycling into the culture

How can cyclists, and pedestrians, become the new protagonists and unseat cars? “Cycling lanes should not be created where there’s space,” replies Iacorossi “but should be considered as an integral part of the main roadway, and made part of it.” The new bike lanes therefore focus on main roads and junctions. They don’t relegate cycling to a leisure activity, but consider it to be an everyday need for residents to get around the city, to go to work or school, or to run errands. “Horizon 2020-funded project Handshake  played a crucial role in developing the most recent transitory bike lanes plan,” adds Iacorossi “bringing together 13 of Europe’s top cycling cities to share and inspire excellence.”

Path from Cine to Eur Torrino, 3.8km long

Since 53% of trips in Rome already happen within the municipal boundaries – a 5km radius or a 30m journey – that change is definitely possible. “Residents need time to digest the new measures,” says Iacorossi, and for this the ‘transitory’ lanes are another advantage, as they allow users to get used to them before they become permanent. Even with the COVID crisis giving a hand to the cycling revolution, communication and education are requisites for cities to convince people to integrate cycling in their daily lives. For example, Rome has recently launched a campaign on safe cycling and walking, though campaigns to boost bike to work and bike to school journeys are still missing.

Combining plans towards a cycling revolution

Of the 150km planned, 20 have been built so far, with the Tuscolana bike lane being showcased as a best practice in the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) guide ‘Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery’. In addition to this emergency solution, Rome had planned in its Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) to build 80 km of cycling lanes for everyday use and a main junction path circling around the city. The junction will invite cyclists and pedestrians, to enjoy a journey through both old town areas of touristic interest, and passages on ordinary streets for everyday trips.

It will take some time to put everything into place, but Iacorossi is positive and, referring to Anne Hidalgo’s reelection in Paris, reminds politicians that might hesitate to support similar bold actions that “People reward you if you invest in the quality of life.” Internationally, Rome was already commended on its efforts as a runner up to the CIVITAS Resilience award.

In good company

Rome joins the ranks of the many cities that have promptly reacted to the pandemic with alternative, sustainable and safe solutions to urban mobility. Many European countries have increased their spending around cycling – more than €1bn has been spent on cycling-related infrastructure and 2,300km of new bike lanes have been rolled out since the pandemic began.

Porto, also a runner up to the CIVITAS awards, implemented some of its measures overnight.  From Temporary Pedestrian Zones, to the creation of 34km of new bike lanes, the city also closed some streets to traffic on weekends, and physical activities on the pavement, like yoga classes, became a common view.

In Milan 35km of new cycle paths were added, many of these temporary, with the regional government spending €115m to stimulate cycling.

Paris invested €20m since the start of the pandemic and its cycling levels have increased by 27% compared to the same period in 2019. The city’s measures were supported by policies from the French government, giving a €50 subsidy towards the cost of bike repairs and offering free cycling lessons.

Brussels also announced the creation of 40km of cycle lanes along some of the city’s busiest roads, in combination with zones where pedestrians and cyclists have priority over cars, and a reduction of speed limits across the entire city.

Even cycling capital Amsterdam wasn’t immune to the covid-19 effect and the e-bike is now the most commonly sold type of bicycle in the Netherlands, with cargo bike sales surging too – up 53% since the start of the pandemic.

“We don’t want to go back to normal,” says Iacorossi “as normal was the problem. Because pre-COVID the car was still the protagonist in urban mobility planning.” And European cities want to reinvent a future were active mobility is the new chief in town.

To know more about what cities are planning to do to reinvent cities and not go back to normal, join our Reinventing Cities conference on 4-5 November.

Rome is also part of the USER-CHI and ULaaDS urban mobility projects.


Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer