On Friday, May 30, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh welcomed his colleague from Rome, Ignazio Marino, to City Hall to talk traffic and several other initiatives the two cities will work together on.
After the meeting, Mayor Marino headed down to the BSA Space for a lecture titled “Traffic Advisory, From Rome to the North End: Life without driving“. Speaking to a room full of engaged listeners (at least half of which came by foot or bicycle), Marino addressed the goals and challenges his city faces, including dealing with a high number of cars per inhabitants (over 960 vehicles per 1,000 residents) and the difficulty of introducing new infrastructure due to archeological sites.
After taking office last year, Marino spearheaded a series of initiatives to reduce traffic and make Rome a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly city.
Mayor Marino’s passion for biking goes back to his days working as a surgeon in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where he specialized in liver transplantation.
Upon returning to Italy, Marino was called to run for Senator, winning his bid in the 2006 elections and reconfirming his position two years later.
“A few years ago I was asked to run for Senate,” he says. “I wasn’t sure it was a good move, but I love challenges, so I accepted.”
In Boston, Marino learned about many of the challenges shared between the cities. “There are similar issues,” he says. “The traffic burden and a need to strengthen public transportation. But Boston offers so many cultural and scientific opportunities to work together as well. Boston is terrific for research, and I look forward to signing an agreement to exchange projects.”
“Like in Rome, I noticed Boston has significant challenges with local traffic, especially during rush hour. I understand the problem and am looking at solutions for it in Rome. Some we have introduced include increased bike- and car-sharing programs.”
When it comes to bikes, though, Marino admits it hasn’t always been easy to push for a bike-friendly town. “Rome is not the easiest city in the world to go around in with a bike,” he says. A bike-sharing program introduced by previous mayor Gianni Alemanno was abandoned after a few months because of vandalism and a high number of stolen bikes. Marino is planning to re-activate the existing 29 bike-sharing stations, adding dozens more in the near future.
In general, a multi-pronged approach is what Marino is aiming for. “It would be healthier for the city to increase different types of mobility. Boston has something to teach from this point of view. When I met with Mayor Walsh, I noticed he had an excellent quality control panel, on which he can see a lot of data concerning the city’s activities.”
In Rome’s future, Marino sees more closed roads and an increased use of so-called “ecological islands” — public spaces that are completely closed to traffic. “We will have the largest archeological park in the world,” he says, announcing the closure of Via Condotti, Piazza di Spagna and Piazza del Popolo to traffic by 2015. “When I first introduced the measure closing a part Via dei Fori Imperiali, it was very well-received around the world. Everywhere except for Rome, that is. It is a human characteristic to be conservative. But there need to be innovative solutions,” he reiterates.
Other solutions include the introduction of a hefty tax to enter the city center, as well as teaching children in elementary school the value of public transit and bicycling. “We need to change the culture, and I think this needs to be done at the school level,” says Marino.