Rome should be a great city for cycling. Its climate is the envy of much of Europe (including northern Italy) and while it suffers from rather wet winters, they are short and mild. Warm days return in April and can last right through to December. As far as the city’s topography goes, the seven hills add a pleasant challenge, but nothing a good derailleur set can’t handle. Meanwhile, Rome’s historical centre, with its meandering streets and cobbled alleys –just wide enough for a bike in places – should be a cyclist’s dream. Right now, it’s more of a nightmare.
A recent study conducted by European Union body Eures found the city’s paucity of cycle paths and provisions to have reached critical levels. A peremptory look at the official map of Rome’s cycle paths says it all: technically, there’s a path running the length of the river Tiber, but that only branches across northern Prati and into Villa Borghese. There are a few miles of paths in sleepy Fiumicino, along the sea front in Ostia, plus the odd kilometre stretching through various neighbourhoods. All in all, it’s pretty ineffective for anyone hoping to actually cross the city by bike. And while Rome has its fair share of quiet back streets near its most famous monuments, the rest of the roads are packed with traffic and frequently face pollution levels above accepted EU levels. Rome could learn a lot from the way London transformed its roads into bike-friendly routes with the addition of cycle paths on the tarmac – it doesn’t take much; road paint and a bit of patience. As it stands, cycling commuters are few and far between and while associations like Bici Roma are growing, the movement is slow. Ciemmona, part of the world-wide critical mass group, is launching a protest in Rome on May 31st, June 1st and 2nd, which will see bikers occupy Piazza Vittorio, cycle through the centre and ride a glorious route from Testaccio to the sea (a trip which is usually, sadly, impossible by bike, due to the heavy traffic along the Cristoforo Colombo road).
For now, many cyclists take to two wheels as a leisure pursuit, but even that is a challenging prospect. From Testaccio, I often like to bike along the river up to the railway bridge near Tor de Quinto station, a nice 30 km round trip on the flat with the odd access ramp. But at the moment, the path along the Tiber is in a parlous state. There are still great, dried mud banks across the path from the last time the river flooded, while branches stacked up under Ponte Sisto oblige you to carry your bike on your shoulder. Even in the centre, by Bernini’s incomparable Angel bridge, oil canisters and debris litter the paths, all visible from Castel Sant Angelo above. If this doesn’t deter you, the cycle path above Ponte Risorgimento hasn’t been cleared at all: it’s a swamp bed of mud, forcing you to carry your bike up to the road level and tackle the streets. Yesterday, when I attempted this route, I reached the top of the river bank to see the Lungo Tevere packed four-lanes wide with unmoving traffic, illustrating just how badly this city needs cycling culture. It really shouldn’t take a lot to get Rome on it’s bike, but maintaining the cycle paths it already has would be a good start.
Some reference points for cyclists:
Cycle paths in Rome: http://www.romainbici.it/Piste%20ciclabili%201.htm