Milan Limits Cars As Italian Cities Hope To Make Lockdown Environmental Changes Permanent  

Cities in Italy have been recording cleaner air and significantly reduced pollution under coronavirus lockdown, and now plans are being made to maintain these environmental changes as life begins to return to normal. 

Milan in northwestern Italy has gone from chaos and traffic jams to silent streets in a few weeks under COVID-19 lockdown.

Traffic congestion has fallen 30-75% and polluting nitrogen dioxide dropped 24% in March compared with the previous four weeks, according to the European Environment Agency. 

When lockdown begins to lift, Milan’s authorities have announced that the city will be introducing one of the most ambitious schemes in Europe to reduce traffic congestion in the center. 

“We are in an emergency and for phase two we must organize ourselves so all those who have to move to make the city work, do it in the safest way for them and to prevent contagion,” Marco Granelli, a deputy mayor for Milan, said in a statement. 

To avoid using crowded subways and buses, the city hopes to boost the use of bicycles and electric scooters so that residents won’t resort to using their cars. 

“We worked for years to reduce car use,” said Granelli. “If everybody drives a car, there is no space for people, there is no space to move, there is no space for commercial activities outside the shops.”

Over the summer, 35 km of streets will be transformed to cater for cyclists and pedestrians. The Strade Aperte (open roads) plan will reallocate road space by introducing temporary low-cost cycle lanes and widened pavements. 

The new scheme will also see 30 kph speed limits and pedestrian and cyclist priority streets.

As Rome prepares for phase two of the coronavirus emergency, it too is looking to switch to eco-friendly transportation. 

Mayor Virginia Raggi is promoting the use of bicycles and electric scooters to get around the city saying, “otherwise, we will be invaded by traffic, a prospect we must avoid.

In an interview with Radio Cusano Campus, Raggi explained: “We are working to privilege transport by bike and other ‘soft’ modes like scooters.” To help keep levels of pollution and traffic low, the city will see the creation of new cycle lanes.  

Raggi also stated that she had asked the government to “reopen bicycle shops quickly” and that she was “pushing to provide incentives for purchasing electric bikes.”

Residents of Venice are also breathing cleaner air as polluting cruise ships are no longer docking in the city. The canals are still and in some places the water has become clearer as motorboat traffic has reduced. 

Many would like to see environmental measures imposed, such as resident Diana Vandeville who has started a petition calling for change. “Before the coronavirus lockdown, I could smell the pollution as I walked around,” says Vandeville. 

Vandeville’s petition proposes stricter controls on motorboat speed in order to reduce wake pollution, which damages building foundations and harms the lagoon eco-system by stirring up the sea and canal beds. Her petition also calls for switching to electric or hybrid engines and using biofuel.   

Italy is due to commence phase two of the coronavirus lockdown plan on May 4. The government has announced that some businesses and industries will be allowed to restart production in a bid to boost the crippled economy. 

Throughout May there will be gradual reopenings of clothes shops and restaurants for a takeaway service, although details are still to be released by premier Giuseppe Conte. 

Although the number of new cases of COVID-19 rose on Wednesday, the country is hoping that with adequate safety measures, some sense of normal life can tentatively resume.