Coronavirus: Congested Milan to turn roads into cycle lanes after drop in air pollution due to lockdown

City hopes to create 35km of new cycle paths and to extend sidewalks for safe walking

Conrad Duncan
Wednesday 22 April 2020 10:47 BST
Ursula von der Leyen apologises to Italy for not giving enough support at start of coronavirus crisis

Milan is preparing to launch an ambitious scheme to reallocate street space from cars to cyclists and pedestrians when it begins to exit its months-long coronavirus lockdown.

The Italian city, which is in the hard-hit region of Lombardy, has some of the worst pollution in Europe and introduced a temporary daytime car ban earlier this year in an attempt to reduce high levels of smog.

Motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75 per cent during Italy’s lockdown and officials in Milan hope to use the reopening of the city as an opportunity to turn residents away from car use.

In March, the concentration of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) fell by 24 per cent in the city, compared with the preceding four weeks, according to the European Environment Agency.

“We are in an emergency and for phase two we must organise ourselves so all those who have to move to make the city work, do it in the safest way for them and to prevent contagion,” Marco Granelli, Milan’s councillor for mobility and public works, said in a statement.

“We won't be able to have supercrowded subways and buses so we will have to do much more remote work and distribute the schedules better.

“And then, to avoid having another million cars in the streets, we will have to boost the two wheels: more bicycles and more electric scooters.”

The city has announced plans to turn 35km (22 miles) of street into new cycle paths, with the first sections introduced in May and June, and to extend sidewalks so people can maintain safe distance when walking.

The Strade Aperte (open roads) plan will also include 30kph (20mph) speed limits and pedestrian/cyclist priority streets.

After more than six weeks of lockdown, the Italian government is finalising plans for a gradual reopening of the country as the peak of its Covid-19 epidemic has appeared to have passed.

Giuseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, said on Tuesday that the measures, which are still to be announced, would be applied starting from 4 May.

“I wish I could say: let's reopen everything. Immediately. We start tomorrow morning ... But such a decision would be irresponsible,” Mr Conte wrote in a Facebook post.

“It would make the contagion curve go up in an uncontrolled way and would nullify all the efforts we have made so far.”

He added: “We must act on the basis of a national [reopening] plan, which however takes into account the territorial peculiarities.”

Italy has the highest death toll from Covid-19 in Europe, with 24,114 fatalities, according to the country’s Civil Protection Agency.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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