Stuttgart 21: Welcome to Dystopia

This is the first in a series of three postings about the controversial “Stuttgart 21” project. Part two will be posted on Tuesday and part three on Thursday.

Part One: Welcome to Dystopia

I have been in Stuttgart for one difficult week. In the space of that time, I have been stripped of my illusions about transport-utopia and forced to confront my conflicting feelings about activism, identity and social change.

Things got weird even before I arrived. I left Paris on Monday morning via the TGV, the fastest train in Europe, chasing a snowstorm east. The storm had dusted Paris but seemed to be gathering strength as it moved inland. Here’s one thing about high speed rail I never considered: if you’re following a storm, chances are your train is moving faster than the storm, so you’re gonna catch up with it and then get stuck in it – which is exactly what happened. As we approached the German border, the snow got heavier and our train slowed to a crawl. Hours and missed connections and drippy, standing-room-only train rides later I arrived in Stuttgart’s central train station. When I stepped off onto the platform I was greeted by a wall of blowing snow and angry people protesting the construction of a new train station. Welcome to Germany.

Now, don’t think I was predestined to have a bad time in Germany. Quite the opposite, in fact. German is the foreign language I speak best, thanks to my arbitrary decision as a seventh-grader to study German, which I continued with right on through high school. When I travel, I always seem to end up hanging out with Germans. One summer I even worked at a German-owned dude ranch in Idaho, where I took a whole lot of German tourists on horseback rides through the Idaho wilderness. I love that the Green Party is an actual political force in Germany. I love that Germans are into trains and bikes and mountains and beer.

Despite all this I’d never actually been to Germany, so maybe I was harboring some outsized expectations. I expected a wonderland of efficient trains, happy hikers and enlightened regional governance. Instead I found myself in the twilight zone of urban planning, where Greens protest train projects and the most powerful regional government in Germany has the highest VMT per capita in the nation.

I chose Stuttgart as one of my case study regions because they have the first directly-elected regional government in Germany and are widely cited as a model for effective regional governance. Stuttgart also seemed particularly relevant for California because its a stronghold of car culture in Europe – Mercedes, Daimler and Porsche are all based in Stuttgart. Its not a transit utopia like Amsterdam or Stockholm that would be impossible to achieve in most parts of California. So I was prepared for the fact that automobiles would be a more powerful force here.

But I was not prepared for the deep divisiveness and violent protest – from the left – over a project designed to improve transit service and regenerate a brownfield site in the center of the city. The project in question is called “Stuttgart 21” and it is a massive undertaking to modernize the central train station and surrounding rail network, build a new system of railroad tunnels beneath the city, and convert the existing railyard into a new, mixed-use neighborhood in the city center.

Sounds great right? Well tell that to the thousands of residents and Green party leaders who have been staging protests against the project on a regular basis for months. Protests began in early Spring, just as construction was getting underway. The protests grew larger and larger over the course of the summer, with groups of protestors moving in to tree-sit in the park adjacent to the station.

One day in September, when crews were slated to cut down approximately 25 trees next to the station, the protests culminated in a violent clash between protesters and police. The police used pepper spray and water cannons on the crowd of thousands, injuring hundreds of people. Images of bloodied protestors made it into newspapers and TVs across Europe and sent shockwaves through the political establishment.

Police used truck-mounted water cannons to break up a protest against the Stuttgart 21 project. Photo Michael Dalder/Reuters

A protestor injured by water cannons in September was permanently blinded in one eye. This image has become the iconic photo of the Stuttgart 21 movement. Photo courtesy of Das Bild.

After this episode construction was temporarily halted and mediator was brought in by the central government to try to calm things down, but the protests continue. I’ve encountered four protests since I arrived, and that’s without even trying.  The largest I’ve seen was last Saturday, when I encountered two thousand protestors walking in a ring around the downtown.  Today’s newspaper reported that four people were injured and one woman went to the hospital on Saturday after clashing with police.

About 2000 protestors gathered outside the central train station on Saturday. Photo by me.

All this over a train station? How is it possible that this could happen in Germany, the shining beacon of sustainable transport? As an outsider and an activist, I find it confusing and troubling to witness this conflict. While I didn’t come to Stuttgart with the intention of focusing on this project, it raises so many difficult and uncomfortable questions that I feel I have to explore.

How do we evaluate the tradeoffs between localized impacts and global benefits? At what point do the costs of massive new infrastructure outweigh the benefits?

What does it mean  when smart growth goes mainstream in California, as it has in Germany?

How can we create truly effective public participation in large-scale regional decision-making to avoid these kinds of conflicts?

Tomorrow, in Part II, I’ll share some details about the project, some encounters with the protestors, and my own feelings in reaction to this quagmire. In Part III, I’ll do my best to explore some of these difficult issues. There are of course no easy answers, but this is a unique opportunity to be a fly on the wall (fence?) of someone else’s backyard.

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And now for something completely different . . .

I’ve been tackling a lot of heavy subjects in my blog lately so I thought I’d throw in some lighter fare, for your sake and mine.  Here’s a collection of quirky, silly and mostly irrelevant observations from my trip so far.  Enjoy!

French planners think of everything:

 

This pedestrian signage made me very happy:

 

Warning: Swarm of angry machines ahead!  Run for your lives!

 

Tram cat in Lyon. Pets are allowed on transit in most of the places I’ve visited – so enlightened!

 

You know what this beautiful historic statue needs? A parking garage.

 

Italians are so eco-conscious, they even recycle their bras!

 

Trying out a wine-delivery bike cart – and my impersonation of a grumpy old Frenchman – in Lyon .

I came across an architecture exhibit about Singapore.  If the US were as densely developed as Singapore, here’s how big our urban footprint would be.

It was a really good exhibit.  But I did a double-take when I saw this photo – what exactly are we conveying about architecture here?

. . . and umm another reason Singapore’s architecture is awesome . . .

This painting, called “The Ricotta Eaters” is in the Musee de Beaux Arts Lyon:

When at all possible, its a good idea to have your mode of transport match your architecture.

Anything sounds better when you put a “le” in front of it –

Thanks for reading.  Next up – Stuttgart!!

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Eye Candy for Sustainability

The theory of sustainable development has become hip recently. But putting the theory into practice is a surefire way to lose any popularity contest. Many new urban developments get shot down by people who hate the density, fear the change, loathe the design. And sometimes those fears are justified. Just look at the blocky concrete 1960s architecture that defines much of California suburbia – whose bright idea was that? I even saw some of it in Lyon.

bleh

ack

This is France?? I felt like I’d been transported through time and space to Mountain View, California circa 1986 and was standing in the old San Antonio Shopping Center, with its massive concrete expanses and desolate public plazas frequented only by skateboarders and crows.

It turns out Lyon went through its own frenzy of auto-oriented development during the 20th century, building highways and expressways and malls and sprawling industrial complexes. Now the region is trying to attract new investment to regenerate these older industrial and commercial areas to become mixed-use districts centered around transit.

Is it possible to design a new development that everyone loves? I wouldn’t bet on it. But if we’re going to get serious about making California communities more sustainable, we’ve got to get better at designing communities that people want to live in.

So the other day I visited the Lyon Confluence neighborhood, a large urban redevelopment area where I saw some dazzling new infill development that really got me thinking about the importance of good architecture. Confluence gets its name from its location at the confluence of two of France’s major rivers: the Rhone and the Saone.   Lyon’s raison d’etre is that it sits at this junction.

An aerial view of the Lyon Confluence

In the photo above, historic Lyon is in on the left with its dense, traditional neighborhoods. The Confluence redevelopment area is on the right. At the dividing line sits a highway and a train station which, importantly has high speed rail service as well as local/regional trains.

With its size (65 hectares, or 26 acres), proximity to the historic city center and excellent transit connections, the Confluence is a big infill opportunity site. The first phase of the project is nearly complete – and its unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  I was blown away by the architecture.

Here’s what the site looked like before – this is the Phase Two site, currently being planned.

Some cool facts about this development:

  • 30% of the housing units are set-aside for low-income residents.
  • 80% of the energy for the buildings is generated onsite through solar panels and wood-fired boilers.
  • The buildings consume 50% less energy than the current energy efficiency regulations require, and 10 times less than comparably-sized older buildings in Lyon.
  • The project won an EU Concerto program award for bioclimatic design.
  • Parking is 0.6 spaces per unit.
  • 65% of the funding for the project came from private investors. The rest was from a mix of local, regional, and national funds.

Lyon’s regional planning approach played a key role in attracting the private investment to make this project possible. Not only did the regional agency coordinate all the different elements such as infrastructure and site planning and permitting, it also has a economic development department that actively promotes the Confluence site – and other TOD sites around Lyon – with investors.

A major aspect of Lyon’s marketing strategy is that its only 2 hours from Paris via high speed rail – and rents in Lyon are 2-3x less than Paris – so they are attracting companies to come to Lyon instead of Paris, and locate their offices close to the train station. This approach seems to be paying off – Lyon has fared relatively well during the economic downturn and has seen rents, investment levels and vacancy rates stay relatively stable compared to Paris, Barcelona and other nearby job centers. All while concentrating new development in places that are helpful, rather than harmful, to the environment.

In California I doubt we’ll see MPOs playing such a central role in development anytime soon. But the idea of having a coordinated set of regional priorities about where – and how – economic development occurs is already becoming a reality. During last summer’s target-setting process there was a lot of hype from certain business interests about SB 375 being harmful to California’s economy. But as the Lyon example demonstrates, a stronger role for regional planning can help – rather than hinder – the “right” kind of development.

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Its hard not to love Velo’v

Before coming to Lyon, I was skeptical that bike-sharing could work in California –  but I am becoming a convert. Lyon’s wildly-successful Velo’v program (pronounced Vell-LOVE, it means “bike love”) is putting a dent in driving without breaking the bank of the municipalities and residents.

The mastermind behind the Velo’v program is Lyon City Council member Gilles Vesco. In France, many elected officials are in charge of a particular department or issue – a good idea, I think – and Gilles is responsible for urban mobility for the City of Lyon. He also serves as the Vice-President of Greater Lyon, the body that oversees regional transport and municipal planning for the larger metropolitan area. Gilles welcomed me to Lyon on my second day and showed me how the system works.

Gilles Vesco demonstrates how to use the Velo'v system

Step 1: Wave your membership card in front of the sensor. (Non-members can use a credit card instead).

Step 2: Enter your pin . . . what was it again?

Step 3: Just like the vending machine. Decide which bike you want and enter the number of the post its attached to..

Viola! The bike is yours. Thanks Gilles!

So that’s how it works for users.  Behind the scenes, its a little more complex. Velo’v is run by a private company called JCDecaux that also manages Lyon’s bus and bike shelters – basically the street infrastructure for transport. (On a side note, I find it very interesting that most of Europe’s transport systems are operated by private companies rather than public agencies.  Something to explore another time.) Around the time that JCDecaux’s contract was coming up for renewal, the City asked them to develop a pilot bikesharing program as part of their new contract. The company agreed.

Velo’v launched in 2005 with 2,000 bikes and was an immediate success. Another 1,000 bikes were added a year later, and another 1,000 the year after that. Today, the big, sturdy bikes with the red bumper are ubiquitous throughout Lyon and neighboring Villeurbanne. There are 350 stations with almost 4,000 bikes (that’s one bike for every 150 residents).  On an average day the Lyonnaise make approximately 20,000 trips using Velo’v.

A colleague of Gilles told me that Velo’v was a “revolution” in Lyon, and I have to say I think he’s right. Every single person I’ve talked to in Lyon knows Velo’v and loves it. I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm for a local transport program. There’s even a video game called Velo’v racing in Lyon.

There are now similar programs in other French cities and across Europe but as many proud locals have told me, Lyon did it first and became the model.  The Paris program, modeled on Lyon’s, is massive (16,000 bicycles) and is called Velib (bike liberty).  My landlord Eduoard told me he loves to correct Parisians who visit Lyon and mistakenly assume that Paris did it first.

But how much does it cost? Amazingly, the program is basically cost neutral for the participating cities and relatively inexpensive for users. The first half hour is FREE and after that its 1.5 – 3 euros per hour (its cheaper if you have a membership).

How is this possible?  Because Velo’V is privately managed, the exact financial details aren’t public. But apparently the low cost of the program is offset by the company’s exclusive rights to advertising space on the bus shelters and other street infrastructure the company manages on behalf of the city.

According to Gilles, the program’s biggest (and costliest) headache is also a key to its success. With Velo’V you can take a bike from any station and return it to any other station in the system. This flexibility makes it very appealing to users.

On the other hand, it also makes for some big logistical nightmares. For example, on a sunny Saturday, all the bikes end up at the city’s main park. In one hilly district, everyone rides the bikes to the bottom of the hill, but no one wants to ride them back up. The administrators of the program have had to learn to anticipate these supply/demand imbalances and develop a system for re-distributing the bikes (via truck, I’m afraid).

One of the most interesting things about Velo’v is its ripple effect on bicycling in Lyon. Before Velo’v only about 1% of local trips were taken by bike. But after Velo’v, more and more Lyon residents began riding their own bikes. Local transport researcher Marc Ellenberg told me that for every 1000 bicycles that Velo’v added to the streets of Lyon, private residents have added 2000 bicycles. Why would people start riding their own bikes after a bike-sharing program started?

I can think of a few possible explanations:

Cycling became cool. Gilles and others told me that Velo’v helped lessen the social stigma of riding a bike. Yes, even in cycle-happy France there is a stigma associated with riding a bike. (Cycling for sport ala Tour de France is distinguished from cycling for transport).

The lemming effect. Personally, I always feel safer when there’s other cyclists around, for rational and irrational reasons.  Maybe the Lyonnaise do too.

The upgrade effect. Perhaps people tried Velo’v and liked it so much that they decided to invest in a bike that fits them better. The Velo’v bikes are – by necessity – heavy, slow and one-size-fits-all.

Whatever the reason, this magnifying effect of Velo’v has had a pronounced impact on travel in the city. Before Velo’v, 1% of daily trips were made by bicycle. In the five years since the program began, that number has tripled to 3%.  Considering that the program is essentially revenue neutral for the municipalities involved, that’s a pretty good cost-benefit ratio.

Currently the program only exists in Lyon and Villeurbane. But after witnessing the program’s success, the regional government Grand Lyon has made it a top priority to expand cycling throughout the region. Their goal: 7.5% bicycle mode share by 2020. In addition to the expansion of Velo’v, the plan calls for the expansion of the bicycle network (600 km of new bike lanes by 2020) and a new long-term bike “leasing” program for students and low-income residents.

Could bike sharing work in California? A handful of California communities and universities have created bike sharing programs but their scale is generally quite small and, importantly, they are centralized – ie you have to return the bike to the same location where you got it.  If Gilles is correct and the decentralized, one-way model is a key to success, then we would need to make a bigger upfront commitment.  Could SB 375’s regional framework create the opportunity to do a large-scale program like Lyon’s?

You can read more about Velo’v on its english-language website.

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Parlez-vous transport?

Time is strange when you’re traveling alone and don’t speak the language. My month in Torino felt like an eternity at first – especially when I was struggling to communicate even the most basic things in Italian – but suddenly I found it was almost over. In my final week I rushed to wrap up the loose ends of my Torino research, visit the museums I’d meant to visit, and spend time with people I’d met.

For the next month I will be visiting two other regions: Lyon and Stuttgart. Then I’ll return to Torino in December to wrap things up, write my final report, and do all the things I still haven’t done there.

So late last week I said goodbye (for now) to Torino and boarded an evening train headed west across the Alps to Lyon. I was nervous about leaving behind the familiarity of Torino, my colleagues at SiTI, and the Italian language – which I had finally become comfortable with. There’s no SiTI in Lyon, just me in a rented apartment and a handful of contacts through the German Marshall Fund’s network. AND I speak no french – none zero zip – so I was bracing myself for a more challenging experience.

That first night my fears felt confirmed. I had either misread the train schedule or miscommunicated with the French station agent and found myself stuck at the wrong train station on the outskirts of the city, some 30 km from where I needed to be. It was 11 pm and the connecting train I expected was apparently not coming. My choices were a very expensive taxi ride or a series of tram and subway connections. This fellowship being what it is, I gathered my courage and opted for the latter.

I expected an ordeal but instead it was incredibly easy and fast.  That is the first lesson of Lyon: their system works, even late at night, even across long distances, even when you don’t speak the language and don’t know where you’re going. At every step along the way there was good information, fast connections and helpful people that spoke English or Italian, or suffered patiently through my hand gestures and incomprehensible attempts at French. I reached the city center – a distance of 30 km – in just over 35 minutes, using two different modes (tram and subway) across multiple municipalities.  When I arrived at my station I was two blocks from my new apartment. Vive le effective transport!

The next morning I went out for a cup of coffee and ended up wandering the city for hours, pulled from one beautiful place to the next.  Here are some first impressions of Lyon –

 

Old Lyon is on a hillside above the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. Lyon's newer commercial center, known as "Part Dieux" is visible in the background.

A subway station in central Lyon

Everywhere a bike share. Lyon's hugely successful bikeshare program became a model for similar programs across France and Europe.

Lovely Lyon - not as scary as I thought. Pedestrian bridge over the Saone River.

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A Tale of Three Mayors

An issue that often comes up when talking about regional planning is the dynamic between the big (and usually more powerful) cities and their suburban and small-town counterparts. So I was curious to talk with officials from smaller municipalities around Torino to hear what they thought about the regional plan. Was it a success for their communities, or were they overshadowed by the more powerful interests in the City of Torino?

Last week I met with three mayors of small suburban communities. One is currently serving as mayor, one is a former mayor, and the third will be sworn in as mayor next month. All three have been supportive of urban transformation and involved in regional planning, but they had radically different perspectives. The current mayor had only positive things to say about the regional plan and its benefits for his community. The former mayor was quite skeptical about the long-term prospects for regional collaboration. The soon-to-be mayor has a lot of ideas and enthusiasm.

Note: The interviews were conducted in Italian with help from translators, so what follows bellow are approximations, not exact transcriptions.

Carlo Novarino, Former Mayor of Moncalieri

Carlo Novarino, former mayor of Moncalieri (no I didn't take this photo!)

Carlo Novarino was the mayor of Moncalieri, the largest suburb of Torino and location of the Savoy summer “home” – a large castle that is a popular tourist destination. He served as mayor throughout the strategic planning process in the 1990s. Novarino swears he is done with politics, and currently works for the local Association of Architects. I met with him at his office in central Torino and haven’t yet had the chance to visit his town.

What are the unique traits of the smaller cities and towns in this region that impact the regional planning process?
The smaller regions have less financial resources than the city. As of 2002, the public spending per person in Torino was 1500 euros. In Moncalieri, it was 700 euros. This holds true for transport, schools, culture, planning, everything.

Also, the small communities, many of them have existed for a thousand years, so they have a strong sense of independence and a tradition of municipal government that is competitive with other municipalities, not collaborative.

Will the new Metropolitan Rail System benefit these communities?
Yes, but its not perfect. All the trains lead to Torino. But there are many people in Moncalieri that commute to another suburban community, not Torino. Some of the smaller municipalities suggested that the system should include better connections among the outer ring suburbs, for example by expanding bus service on the highways that connect the smaller suburban communities. But the City of Torino didn’t like this idea, so it didn’t happen.

Why are the biggest challenges to regional planning in the Torino metro area?
The two major problems are 1) lack of a clear governance structure and 2) choosing projects. The municipalities quarrel over where new development and transportation projects should be located, because each municipality is looking out for their own interests.

It is easier for municipalities to compete than to collaborate. 30% of the municipalities’ funds comes from development, so more development = more money. Outlet malls are the big thing now because they make a lot of money for the municipalities. Also, mayors are accountable to little special interest groups, not the city as a whole. So this makes the politics difficult. What may be good for the city or region as a whole isn’t necessarily good politics for the mayors.

How can the metro area work together more effectively?
They should focus more energy on smaller projects and those that are less controversial, to build trust. For example, there is a string of parks and tourist sites along the river in the south of the region, and improving and marketing this area to tourists would benefit all the municipalities and the region as a whole.

Thinking broadly, how would you improve regional collaboration and planning in the Torino are and Italy as a whole?
Regional planning won’t ever truly succeed until we simplify the governance structure and create better financial incentives to collaborate. Right now there are too many competing entities and duplication of roles. This is inefficient and wasteful of public resources. But this won’t happen without intervention at the federal level, and there is a disconnect – the federal government doesn’t listen enough to the regions.

Marcello Mazzu, Mayor of Grugliasco

Marcello Mazzu is the current mayor of Gruliasco, a working class inner-ring suburb of Torino. Mazzu is a physician by training and has served as the City Council since 1994.

I rode the Metro and bus out to Grugliasco to meet with Mayor Mazzu at the modest city hall in Grugliasco’s small historic center, which has a lovely old church, cobblestone streets and a nice public park. Outside the center, the town bears the signs of rapid growth typical of Italy’s post-war boom: generic high-rise apartment buildings surrounded by parking lots, swaths of industrial areas along the rail lines and wide arterial roads dominated by cars.

Mayor Mazzu was deeply engaged in Torino’s regional planning process and gives it glowing reviews. While it does seem like Grugliasco has seen some real benefits, I also got the sense that, as a sitting mayor, he was reluctant to say anything overtly critical. Here are some excerpts from my interview:

Overall, how has the regional transportation plan affected your city?
The regional plan has had both benefits and costs for Grugliasco, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Grugliasco has a line on the Metropolitan Railway system and a Metro station is at the edge of the city.

The tram and bus network in Grugliasco has been reoriented to deliver passengers to the Metro station, and similar changes will happen when the new rail system is complete. Transit ridership has ‘certainly’ increased as a result of these improvements.

But aren’t these changes costing a lot more money? How are you paying for it?
Not for Grugliasco. Its a matter of using existing resources more wisely. Also, collaboration with the city and the other small municipalities can be helpful in offsetting costs. For example our bike sharing program is very successful and almost pays for itself now. But we couldn’t have done this without the City of Torino and the other municipalities, who are all using the same program.

Recommendations for other regions that want to make regional planning work?
It should not be political or a left-right battle, because these problems are not left-right problems, they are everyone’s problems. Also state and fed governments need to give the regions more power and control, as well as resources.

Ann Cheng, soon-to-be Mayor of El Cerrito, California

Madame Mayor enjoys a cappucino in Torino

 

Well, OK, so I didn’t actually “meet” with Ann. She is a good friend and she came for a visit while traveling through Europe with her husband Wiley. Their visit coincided with my mayor meetings, and Ann is indeed about to become Mayor of El Cerrito, so it was opportune timing. Ann currently serves on the city council of her hometown of El Cerrito, an inner-ring suburb in San Francisco’s East Bay Area. She’s also a planner and a walk-bike-transit-activist, so her goals for El Cerrito are very much aligned with the goals of SB 375. She has already outlined her agenda for when she becomes Mayor, and it was really interesting to hear her perspective on what it means to run a city and try to make change happen from the inside.

Ann has also developed a great new tool to evaluate the transportation impacts of a proposed development project. The tool is called GreenTRIP and, like the LEED certification program for energy-efficient development, it certifies projects that meet the highest standards for reducing traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. You can read more about GreenTRIP here.

Ann is also the person who told me about this fellowship, and sent me the call for proposals. So I’m very grateful to her! Speaking of which, the German Marshall Fund is now accepting proposals for next year’s fellowship. You can learn more about the fellowship and apply here.

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Walk and Bike Torino

As a San Francisco Bay Area native, I have an innate sense of pedestrian entitlement which has proven to be a major hazard in Torino, where car is king.  Cars do NOT yield to pedestrians and bikes here, and if for some reason you forget this basic fact, the car coming at you will happily remind you by accelerating in your direction.  A major goal of Torino’s regional plan has been the improvement of the pedestrian environment, and a small but vocal bike advocacy community has also made great strides in improving bike facilities as well.

Bike sharing
The City of Torino started a bike-sharing program that proved hugely popular.  In fact, the program is so popular I was hard-pressed to find a bike sharing station that had any bikes in it!  I finally snapped this photo on a quiet Sunday morning:

The popularity of the program in Torino led to its adoption in many of the region’s smaller suburbs and towns, such as this one, in the small town of Veneria:

Bike sharing in Veneria

Both the city and the suburban bike sharing programs are run by a single private company, and –  according to the Mayor of the little suburb of Grugliasco –  the program in his city is revenue-neutral after just one year in operation.

Reclaiming Pedestrian Spaces
I was shocked to learn that until recently, many of Torino’s beautiful and historic pedestrian plazas had in fact been open to cars.  The beautiful Palazza Madama, a 14th century castle in the middle of the city’s large central piazza was, for many years, completely surrounded by gigantic traffic circle!  Locals joked that it was the most scenic traffic circle in Italy.   The large cobblestone courtyard in front of the Royal Palace (where the first King of Unified Italy lived) had been converted to a parking lot!  As part of the city’s renovation, many of these spaces in Torino and the surrounding cities have been reconverted to pedestrian use.

Torino's central piazza, with the royal palace in the background, was a giant parking lot for most of the 20th century.

This sign in the small town of Veneria restricts the access of cars to the historic town center

In recent years, Torino and its surrounding cities have also spruced up their old pedestrian walkways that line some of the older neighborhoods, such as this one in Grugliasco.

New signals and repaved cobblestones are a few of the pedestrian improvements on this walkway in Grugliasco.

Bike Advocacy
I was excited to learn about the efforts of a few local bike advocates, such as Bici e Basta (bikes are enough) and Muovi Equilibri that have organized cyclists in Torino and successfully lobbied to create bike lanes in busy streets, often by removing street parking.  Here’s an example of a street, Via Verdi, that has been reclaimed for bikes:

Bike lane on Via Verdi in the historic center of Torino

Will these changes eventually lead to a change in the relationship between cars, pedestrians and bikes in Torino?  Its hard to say, but I’m encouraged both by the projects already undertaken, and the emergence of citizens groups that are well-organized and making an impact.

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