Padova’s (Italy) Cycling Potential

IMG_7309Below is the next entry in the EU BICI series which includes: Seville (Spain), BolognaFerrara (Italy), Berlin , Munich (Germany), Zurich (Switzerland), and Cambridge (U.K.).

There is reason to believe that Padova—a town with more than 200,000 people in the Veneto region in the north of Italy—is capable of becoming one of the country’s best cycling towns. Some places in Italy stand out in one dimension of a progressive transport system (e.g., km of traffic limited zone), but are weaker in others. Padova ranks high across several dimensions and their breadth across several bike friendly indicators is notable, scoring a consistent 5th among all towns in Italy for: (1) km of traffic limited zone, (2) km of pedestrian areas, (3) km of bike facilities[1], and (4) size of the university.

There is high enough density (2,300 people/km2) for a good cycling city. Also, consider that Padova is situated within a larger region of road cycling stardom industries (i.e., Pinarello, Campagnolo, Sidi, Willier, Battaglin Bikes and Selle Italia are headquartered close by)—suggesting cycling is in the local blood.

The basic “bones” are there. Cycling here is pleasant and a supposed 120 km of facilities increase cycling’s presence; many of these are progressive separated facilities, serving as spokes from the center. By Italian standards, these facilities allow relatively comfortable cycling. But it is by no means extraordinary. Acute problems for cycling close to the city center include:

  • An indiscernible hierarchy among the facilities. The bike network in the city appears to be a patchwork quilt that is erratically woven together. On the east side of city center a few traffic-closed areas provide strong spines. But it is hard to see rhyme or reason behind what is where in other areas.
  • More than a few ‘painful’ markings for bike facilities direct cyclists into problematic areas/routes. I was amazed at how cyclists were directed into garbage cans, fences, and the sort.
  • An incessant problem of pedestrians, cars, and delivery trucks in bicycle facilities. This is a problem in all Italian towns (to be fair, it is by no means endemic to only Italy—I even saw it in Copenhagen); however, owing to Pavova’s relative extensive network, it appears to be a larger problem here relative to other Italian cities. A group of students have already taken to making a video documenting the “joke” of the facilities around town[2].
  • Bicycling theft pervades this town, even the most decrepit of bikes.

While many of the above factors plague other Italian cities—together with a crowded historic center—several factors suggest Padova’s potential for cycling success is less steep. The list mentioned at the onset provides good justification behind this—an assertion which is also supported by the fact that:

  • Students at one of the largest universities in the country appear hungry for better cycling conditions[3];
  • Padova is one of six medium sized towns in Italy with a tram/streetcar system, suggesting the city has already overcome that hurdle for wanting to lead the way with a mode considered avant-garde;
  • The city is in the heart of the Veneto region—a region where, relatively speaking, systems “work” a bit better[4] and one that has higher income, suggesting an ability to ‘get things done.’

However, cycling’s priority is anywhere but at the top. The current mayor is apparently taking a stand to prevent the expansion of bike lanes, claiming a need to amplify parking close to the center instead[5]. Furthermore, the strength and integrity of the traffic limited zone is apparently under attack. Padova needs to take advantage of a situation that is ripe for them to:

  • Initiate an anti bicycle theft program using, for example, GPS and bait bikes to lure thefts and catch them,
  • Be a pioneer in Italy with respect to clamping down on delivery and other vehicles blocking bike lanes,
  • Work to retain a strong traffic limited zone, and perhaps even expand it, and
  • Stand behind and further reinforce their already commendable bicycle network.

Padova presents one municipality in Italy with potential to ‘move the needle’ with respect to cycling. Whether the city politics have the courage to prioritize such remains to be seen.

Thanks much to Andrea Ragona and Paolo Roberti.

Notes: [1] According to the Guide of Sustainable Mobility Indicators Euerombility and Ministero dell-Ambiente (2012). La Mobilita Sostenibile in Italia: Indagine sulle principali 50 citta as well as other sources,

[2] see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TK7ZlvgUajk

[3] See reference to above mentioned video

[4] Italy has 20 regions with wildly different cultures. A distinctive region to the north, Alto Adige, was chipped away from Austria in 1919 by the Allies as a reward to the Italians for fighting the Germans. Most residents here consider themselves to be of German stock. German is the default language and ale the modus operandi. Other Italians are known to whisper, “Those people aren’t real Italians.” In bicycle planning, there is also an unfounded argument that bicycling success might be tied to language, which is obviously tied to culture. In Belgium, the French-speaking part suffers with respect to cycling. Flemish, which is what they speak in Flanders, is just a local variety of Dutch, and the Flemish say that their official language is “Dutch.” This area of Belgium does pretty well. By this logic, Alto Adige would be expected to fair well for cycling—which it does—leaving the rest of Italy up grabs in terms of what is the “best” cycling city.

[5] see: http://mattinopadova.gelocal.it/cronaca/2014/06/12/news/bitonci-taglia-le-auto-blu-risparmiati-100-mila-euro-1.9410260

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3 Responses to Padova’s (Italy) Cycling Potential

  1. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell June 28, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    Interesting post.

    Vehicles blocking bike lanes seems a consistent problem everywhere, including The Netherlands, and certainly increases risk when bicyclists have to swerve in to traffic to get around blockages. Curb or parking protected cycle tracks seem the only way to reduce this (and the road debris that collects in unprotected bike lanes).

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