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Milan will build 750 kilometers of bike lanes to create the largest cycling network in Europe | Environment


Two users check out a public bike from a BikeMI base, Milan's municipal bike system, in September 2020.
Two users check out a public bike from a BikeMI base, Milan’s municipal bike system, in September 2020.Emanuele Cremaschi (Getty Images)

Milan has decided to remove space from the car to give it to the bicycle, a means of transport that favors healthy and sustainable mobility and reduces pollution in cities. The city intends to deploy the largest network of bike lanes in Europe, 750 kilometers spread over 24 lines that will cover a large part of the province and will be completed in 2035. The project has a total investment of 225 million euros with which it hopes to exceed 680 kilometers of cycle paths planned by Paris, currently a European pioneer in large-scale bicycle infrastructure. The initiative, called Cambio, was approved last November, but now, as a step prior to the start of the works, the municipal government has begun to publicize the actions. The first part of the network will be ready this summer.

Like many other cities in Europe, Milan built temporary lanes after coming out of the 2020 lockdown (35 kilometres). The new plan goes much further and is committed to permanent, safe, connected and protected infrastructure. In the plans, it resembles a spider web that will be organized around four concentric cycle belts that will start from the center of the city. 16 roads in the form of spokes will cross them and connect the heart of the city with the outskirts and with more than a hundred towns in the metropolitan belt and surroundings. Four green lines are added to them that will link the north with the south and the west with the east of the province. The tracks will reach much further outside the urbanized area of ​​Milan and the current reach of the city’s metro network.

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“It represents a change in cycling mobility. Until now, cycle paths used to be built in residual spaces left by motorized mobility, but with the Milan project, this approach is turned around and paths exclusively dedicated to bicycles are created”, explains Markus Hedorfer, president of the Italian Association of urban planners and territorial and environmental planners and vice president of the European Council of urban planners. He adds: “Fully putting the project into practice is a challenge. The small suburban towns will have to integrate the great network with their own network so that they can go from home to work, to school, to the supermarket, in full safety conditions. It is important that they are connected to each other and in Italy there are few connections between the different cycling networks”.

Map of the proposed bike lanes for Milan in 2035.
Map of the proposed bike lanes for Milan in 2035.Metropolitan City of Milan

The objective of the plan is to move towards a more complete cycling infrastructure and extend the use of the bicycle beyond sports or tourism and turn it into a daily means of transport, “a fast, safe, fun and attractive option, in short the first choice and the most logical to get around”, as defined by the Metropolitan City of Milan (an organization that includes both the city and the province). At the same time, it is intended to combat the traditional pollution problem in the Milan area, the country’s economic engine and one of the most industrialized areas in Europe, caused by a dangerous mix of large-scale industrial activity, high population density and widespread car dependency.

In fact, in 2020 the EU Court of Justice condemned the Lombardy region, in which Milan is located, for failing to “systematically and continuously” comply with European air quality standards. The city has already started a battle to clean the air, with restrictions on the movement of certain vehicles.

The metropolitan city of Milan, former province of Milan, where just over three million people live, is also the most populous urban area in Italy. According to the Higher Institute of Statistics, trips by bike, both in the Lombardy region and in the Milan area, account for around 5% of journeys. When the entire cycling network is completed, it is intended that 20% of trips in the city and 10% of intercommunal trips be made by bicycle. The goal is to make these infrastructures available to nearly 90% of the population, about 2.6 million people, including just over a million workers and almost 100,000 students.

“The bike, a crucial piece of mobility”

“It is a crucial piece of mobility policy for the coming years and its real strength lies in the fact that it does not cover just the city, but a much larger territory. It has the ambition to change the way in which people usually move,” Mariapaola Ritrovato, expert architect in sustainable mobility and tourism at Decisio, one of the companies that is collaborating in the drafting of the Cambio plan, tells this newspaper. And he continues: “A strategic change is intended, not only in relation to mobility and transport, but also more sustainable economic and social development, capable of reducing harmful emissions, to create a safer, healthier, more productive and more equitable, with economic transport solutions for all”.

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The intention is that citizens can pedal practically anywhere in their daily lives and that the main daily destinations for the majority of the population are less than a kilometer away from one of the axial cycling routes. Like for example, 83% of the railway stations; 77% of companies; 79% of secondary education institutes; around 70% of health structures; close to 90% of the goods of cultural interest or 50% of the museums, among others.

All this goes through a paradigm shift in a city where heavy motorized traffic continues to make shared use of the streets unsafe and unattractive for cyclists. In general, in the transalpine country there is a strong attachment to car culture and the bicycle is still not seen as an alternative means of transport, so much remains to be done in terms of awareness. “You have to do cultural work at the same time, the bicycle has to be accepted by the population as a means of transport. Today few people take the bicycle, the problem of security discourages. This plan has the potential to change the life of the city, it will be a revolution for those who are moderately able to use a bicycle. You have to prepare the ground for a radical change in travel habits, and that takes time,” says Hedorfer.

Broadly speaking, in Italy until recently little importance has been given to this means of transport in most cities, which explains why in many places some bike lanes end abruptly, others have serious safety problems or are simply non-existent. in many cities, especially in the south of the country. “Milan is always at the forefront of innovations in Italy, also in this sector, although it is true that it is somewhat behind other European countries such as the Netherlands. We hope that it can be a stimulus for the rest of the country”, says Hedorfer.

A cyclist on a bike lane built in 2020 in Milan.
A cyclist on a bike lane built in 2020 in Milan. Emanuele Cremaschi (Getty Images)

During the pandemic, many cities gave a boost to their transformation through temporary bike lanes and just over 190 kilometers of tracks of this style have been built throughout the country since 2020. The Government even offered vouchers for a time to purchase bicycles and skateboards, safer means of transport against the virus. In Milan, bicycle paths were improvised in the traditional car lanes and just over 30 kilometers previously used for motorized traffic were pedestrianized. These partial and provisional measures have facilitated the use of bicycles in the city center, but on the outskirts the bicycle lanes merge abruptly with heavy traffic.

In Genoa, since the start of the pandemic, more bike lanes have been built than in the last 40 years, with 60 new kilometers of cycle paths and 50 more in the pipeline, although in this case, most of the route is not exclusively for bicycles, but that is shared with cars and urban transport. Much of the cycle paths are concentrated in the north of the country. In the Italian provincial capitals there is an average of 23 kilometers of bike lanes for every 100 square kilometers of surface. In the north, the average rises to 56 kilometers of cycle paths for every 100 square kilometers. Meanwhile, in Rome there are hardly any bike lanes, most are for shared use with vehicles and are incomplete and without connections. Although 150 new kilometers of provisional cycle paths were planned during the pandemic, most have not yet been completed.

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