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OPINION: Can Rome’s new mayor solve the capital’s traffic woes?

Rome's traffic and transport issues are longstanding and legendary, but the new mayor says he'll improve things. Could he succeed, and what's really needed? Rome resident Silvia Marchetti explains.

Cars drive past Rome's Piazza Venezia.
Heavy traffic is a fact of life for Rome's residents. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

When in Rome, how often have you hopelessly searched for a parking space and in the end just given up? I once drove all the way to Pyramide from Tiburtina for an evening cocktail with friends, and then after an hour going around in circles I drove back home, furious, without even stepping out of my car because I couldn’t find a single spot to park it. I felt like a fool. 

Drivers in the Eternal City are stuck for hours in traffic jams on the Lungotevere and often cross the Tiber River more than thrice before finding a tiny parking spot, usually just as the former occupant drives away. And when it rains, it gets all the more hellish. 

Rome is not a metropolis; its historical center is tiny, with narrow roads and alleys crammed with vehicles of all sorts. Its suburbs are also getting very crowded. 

A lack of sustainable mobility is a long-standing problem: public transport is poor and not punctual, while tube trains and parking lots are too few. 

READ ALSO: Rome ranked ‘among worst cities in Europe’ for road safety, traffic and pollution

Politicians have always attempted to solve the problem, but failed. Now Rome’s newly-appointed mayor Roberto Gualtieri is pledging a solution which might help in improving the outlook – but not in solving it all together.

Gualtieri plans to scrap many of Rome’s free parking spaces and increase fees to discourage car use and incentivize people to take public transport. I think parking fees should be raised to €5 per hour.

Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP

His local council has yet to fully become operative, but Gualtieri says his team has a hundred decrees ready to be approved to boost buses, trams and subways. In the first three months of his mandate, improving the capital’s mobility will be among his top priorities.

A special task force will be set up to discuss the challenges along with urban transport operators and taxi drivers. Gualtieri also plans to increase bike lanes and make them safer. 

OPINION:

The truth is, I think Rome will always have a problem with traffic and urban transport, at least until air mobility substitutes ground mobility – which might not be such a distant prospect, if planned ‘air taxis’ become a reality.

Rome’s wonderful past can in fact often be a burden. The millennia-old city is built upon layers of archaeological sites dating back to different periods, and ruins are everywhere – mainly underground. 

It often happens that, whenever workers start digging to build a car park or a new subway, they accidentally unearth parts of an unknown treasure such as an ancient Roman tomb or temple. 

By law the works must freeze and the authorities step in to analyze and study the findings. The area stays cordoned off for months, if not years.

Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP

One way to partly bypass the ‘archaeological barrier’ is to build parking spaces outside of the historical center, possibly within reach of the GRA (Grande Raccordo Anulare. Rome’s ring road) which must be connected to the city via electric buses, trams and faster, ‘green’ trains. 

All this obviously requires massive investment, but the post-pandemic recovery fund is an opportunity which must be fully exploited. 

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Station hubs in strategic areas should also be reinforced with more connections and wider parking areas. It is unacceptable that, for instance, the railway from Piazzale Flaminio to Viterbo is still partly the same one built in the early 1900’s, with one single track allowing the passage of just one train at a time. Or that the train and bus station of Saxa Rubra, connecting the city with its northern suburbs and villages, is crammed with cars parked everywhere. 

Commuters coming from Rome’s outskirts face the greatest trouble. Residents need fast and reliable transport to take them to work on time but visitors would also be impressed if they found not only a mesmerizing city, but an efficient one too. 

It’s a matter of improving quality of life. If a Roman spends roughly two to three hours inside his car, this isn’t only going to impact his physical and mental health, but it also takes a toll on labor productivity levels.

Each time I exit the ring road and get stuck in the usual, daily traffic I long for efficient local transportation. I believe that if trains, subways and buses were more frequent, cleaner and on time and the network extended, that citizens would be more willing to leave their cars at home and take urban transport. Provided, of course, that they can also park their cars at the station in a safe area. 

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Without new wide parking spots I’m afraid cars will remain the main means of transportation among lazy Romans.

Surveys show that Rome is the European city with the highest use of private vehicles: 65 percent versus 26 percent in Paris and 38 percent in Berlin.

One could argue that an ancient Roman site could still pop out during the construction of a parking lot in the city outskirts, which is very likely. That is why it would be helpful to map the city’s potential archaeological areas yet to be unearthed with the help of historians and archaeologists. Once the ‘clear’ spaces have been identified then new subways, train stations and car parks can be more easily planned.

The global reputation of a city as important and unique as Rome cannot be limited to the wonders of the past. Rome must strive to build innovative and eco-conscious transport for the future.

Do you agree or disagree with the opinions expressed in this article? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.

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DISCOVER ITALY

OPINION: Is Italy’s west or east coast the best place for a holiday?

Choosing which coast to visit in Italy can be a tough call, particularly if you’re planning to spend most of the time sunbathing and swimming. Reporter Silvia Marchetti shares her insights on the pros and cons of both.

OPINION: Is Italy’s west or east coast the best place for a holiday?

The Tyrrhenian west coast and the Adriatic east one are very different, and each come with their pros and cons.

In my view the Tyrrhenian side of the boot wins, because even though it tends to be more crowded due to the many art cities located along it, its beaches have fewer facilities for families and the shores are more ragged, with rocks and cliffs ideal for solo and adventurous young people. 

The Amalfi coast’s picturesque fishermen villages, or Liguria’s Cinque Terre, feature tiny pebble stone bays cut between high cliffs with little space for sun umbrellas and beds.

The Adriatic, on the other hand, is a mass destination for foreign sunbathers, very popular especially among German and Russian tourists. The east coast has Italy’s widest and flattest sandy beaches, which make it an ideal spot for families – but also very crowded. 

READ ALSO: Private lidos take up more than 40 percent of Italian beaches: report

The Adriatic shore is one long line of adjacent beach facilities that run for kilometres from the northern Friuli-Venezia Giulia region down south to Puglia. 

Beaches in the seaside towns of Rimini and Riccione, located along the chaotic Riviera Romagnola renowned also for its wild nightlife, feature up to 50 rows of sun beds and umbrellas in summer.

More sunbeds than sand… Some parts of Italy are heavily built-up with an abundance of services. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Beach facilities there resemble open-air condominiums where there are children’s playgrounds, restaurants, sleeping areas, dance floors and changing rooms for clients.

One good thing, though, is the constant presence of bay watchers and lifeguards at each facility, who are present throughout all eastern coastal regions and very helpful if you don’t constantly want to look after the kids. Beach resorts often come with big seaside multi-floor hotel buildings that look like city offices. 

To escape the crowds on the Adriatic coast you need to pick niche, rocky spots with very few beaches such as the Conero Hill in the Marche region and the Gargano promontory in Puglia.

While the Adriatic coast’s wide and easily accessible beaches are great for children and older people, the sea is not always clear and there are just a few top scuba diving and snorkelling spots, such as the beautiful Tremiti islands.

The Tyrrhenian sea, which is deeper than the Adriatic, is packed with diving sites: Ustica island in Sicily and Ventotene isle in Latium are Italy’s top diving meccas brimming with barracudas and giant groupers.

Tyrrhenian waters are cleaner too: in 2021, its shores won more bandiera blu (Blue flag) awards for high water quality standards than Adriatic beaches.

READ ALSO: Where to find even more of Italy’s best beaches

There are also more protected marine reserves along the west coast, which guarantees a pristine environment, and more free beaches without facilities and lifeguards. While this ‘wild’ aspect may be attractive to many, it could make some beaches not suitable for families with small kids. 

Family friendly beaches tend to draw in more crowds. (Photo by ludovic MARIN / AFP)

On the other hand, given its relatively shallow waters, the Adriatic is blessed with reasonable stocks of fish, so if you long for fishing expeditions it’s the perfect destination. 

However the real plus point of the east coast is its strategic location facing other Mediterranean countries and allowing tourists, particularly from the US, to expand their holidays and exploit Italy as the door to the ‘Old Continent’. From the ports of Bari and Ancona, ferry boats depart to Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania.

The winning asset of the Tyrrhenian, other than its translucent waters and baby powder beaches, is the huge artistic heritage it offers visitors. The west coast boasts the top must-see Italian cities usually picked by global tourists (Rome, Naples, Florence) which all lie, or are close to the sea – except for Venice (the gem of the Adriatic).

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The cultural appeal of the west side makes the central national highway, the A1 – otherwise known as Autostrada del Sole – a very trafficky infrastructure. 

There are also mesmerising fishermen villages with a mythological vibe along the Tyrrhenian coast, such as Gaeta and Sperlonga, where it is said Odysseus, the legendary Greek king, landed during his wanderings.

Plus, most of Italy’s UNESCO heritage-listed sites are located along or near the west shore. For instance, the archaeological excavations of Pompeii are among the top tourist hotspots in Italy.

READ ALSO: Life in Italy in 2022: 10 things to add to your bucket list

Generally speaking, the appeal of popular places along the west coast inevitably translates into more expensive hotels and travelling costs but it depends on the specific location. 

A photo shows a general view of the archaeological site of Pompeii, near Naples. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The major west coast lure for sea dogs, sailing amateurs and fans of the tan is that nearly all Italian islands are located in the Tyrrhenian sea and reachable from the mainland.

The two island regions of Sardinia and Sicily are accessible by ferry boat from Naples and Civitavecchia, while the Tuscan archipelago, the Pontine islands and Sicily’s dozens of ‘satellites’ such as the Aeolian, Egadi and Pelagie isles are tropical paradises just a stone’s throw from the cultural highlights.

READ ALSO: Ten percent of the world’s best beaches are in Italy

Even though both coasts are stunning and are worth exploring, personally, I’d chose the Tyrrhenian over the Adriatic any day, and not just because I’m a Roman who lives in Rome. 

It has a diversified offer of artistic sites and beaches, inlets and cliffs that allow you to savour the most of Italy in just a few days. 

The last time I rented my beach home south of Rome to a French couple, I thought they’d laze all day under the sultry sun. Instead they drove across half of Italy in 14 day trips, visiting Florence, Naples, Sorrento and Calabria. 

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