Strade Aperte, how Milan plans to reduce cars as coronavirus restrictions are eased

Milan has announced one of Europe’s most ambitious mobility schemes, known as Strade Aperte (open roads). Its goal is to reduce cars in phase 2 of the lockdown by increasing bike lanes and pedestrian areas.

A few hours after The Guardian published an article about Milan’s ambitious Strade Aperte (open roads) mobility plan, Greta Thunberg praised the initiative in a tweet, and wasn’t the only person to endorse the ambitious scheme. The plan aims to convert 35 kilometres of roads into bike paths and pedestrian areas over the summer. The goal is to avoid a resurgence of cars during so-called “phase 2” of the coronavirus lockdown, i.e. the easing of restrictions first put in place two months ago starting from 4 May, as people who are returning to work are likely to opt for using personal vehicles as opposed to public transport or other alternatives such as car sharing services. Such an outcome would see Milan and its citizens suffocated with traffic and emissions.

Strade Aperte, a roadmap for other cities too

Speaking to The Guardian, former New York City Transport Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said that Milan – where the pandemic’s trajectory is a month ahead compared to other major cities around the world – could become a model for a post-coronavirus mobility strategy. “The Milan plan is so important because it lays out a good playbook for how you can reset your cities“.

Sadik-Khan adds that this could be “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a fresh look at your streets”, to ensure everyone, not just people in cars, can safely get around. In a post-pandemic scenario, it looks like many cities aim to curb car use. In the UK, Brighton has reopened part of its seafront but only to pedestrians and cyclists, who have access to the area between 8am and 8pm. The district of Barnes in London has closed off some parts of its roads so that businesses and residents have more space to walk and therefore abide by social distancing rules. Even in Dublin, Ireland, loading bays and parking spaces are being shut off for the same purpose.

Via Dante, Milan, Castello Sforzesco
Milan’s Via Dante with a view of Sforzesco Castle © Marco di Lauro/Getty Images

Milan, the plan to avoid traffic paralysis

Milan is one of Europe’s most polluted cities and like the surrounding region of Lombardy it has been among the worst-hit by Covid-19. In the current phase of the emergency, the lockdown has caused a significant decrease in traffic congestion, which has fallen by between 30 and 75 per cent. In the absence of traffic, with factories shut down and domestic heating being switched off with the arrival of spring, emission levels have seen significant improvements.

Read more: Coronavirus and air pollution, a dangerous liaison

Phase 2, however, could lead to a return to pre-emergency ways. In fact, it may even make things worse. The risk is that in a city where 55 per cent of citizens normally use public transport to get to work, many will choose to use cars instead because they’re private spaces and therefore seen as safer. The Strade Aperte scheme aims to prevent this traffic emergency from occurring. Marco Granelli, Milan’s Deputy Mayor for Mobility and Public Works, says, “we’re still working on the plan”.

bike, traffic
Milan’s Strade Aperte scheme involves a sharp increase in bike paths and pedestrian areas. Concurrently, it also aims to reduce the use of cars in phase 2 of the lockdown to avoid inevitable traffic and emission problems © Dermot Conlan/PPSOP/Corbis

Strade Aperte: cycle paths and wider pavements

Strade Aperte, announced on the 21st of April, sets out to create temporary and permanent cycle paths that can be created quickly and cost-effectively. Additionally, the scheme includes new and widened pavements, an expanded use of 30 kilometres per hour zones for cars as well as the creation of dedicated areas for pedestrians, cyclists and micromobility. According to current projections work on the project could start by the beginning of summer. An eight-kilometre-long segment of Corso Buenos Aires, one of the city’s most important shopping streets, could be the first to be transformed with the creation of a new cycle path and widening of pavements.

“We should accept that for months or maybe a year there will be a new norm, and we have to create the right conditions for everyone to make the most of this new normality”, comments Pierfrancesco Maran, Deputy Mayor for Urban Planning, Green Areas and Agriculture. “Before we were planning for 2030; now we’re aiming for 2020. Instead of thinking about the future, we have to think about the present”.

segway, micromobility
In the post-emergency period, car sharing could be stopped for some time. However, sharing services for electric micromobility vehicles could provide a valid alternative in large cities © Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Mobility scenarios for the post-emergency period

Milan’s solutions could soon be emulated by other cities. In fact, starting with phase 2 and for a long time thereafter, mobility will experience great transformations, more so than many other aspects of life. Essentially, there are two possible scenarios. In the first one, once the emergency has passed, cars will go back to being the safest way to travel: moving bubbles, extensions of the home environment. The car provides a physical barrier, filtering the outside world and seemingly providing protection against contagion. The return to cars in big cities could slow down more collective forms of mobility like car sharing and carpooling, which for obvious reasons – high levels of contact and health risks – will have to be significantly downsized.

In a scenario in which local public transport use is severely reduced due to continuing restrictions and people not feeling safe using it, all big cities will need a plan to develop and support active mobility (walking and cycling) and micromobility. Following in Milan’s footsteps, dedicated lanes and new spaces will have to be made available on maor connecting roads. Intermodality will also play an important role, as will services like e-bikes and bike sharing, which will require more incentives and support. New ideas in this realm could help turn the post-crisis period into an opportunity to enhance alternative mobility, making our cities greener and cleaner.

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