Cycling Cities: The Reggio Emilia Way – Part 2a: Le Piste Ciclabili

In my previous post about Reggio Emilia I described what cycling is about in the historical city centre ‘Centro Storico’. Here I turn my attention to the network of cycleways that spread from Centro Storico to the suburbs, as well as enable people to travel by bicycle – separated from traffic – among various locations across the city.

A few figures first (for more info about the city please see my previous post):

  • the cycleways network  extends for 235 km, separated from traffic, in one way or another (you’ll see below the different ways)
  • 115 kms is the total length of the streets where the speed limit is 30kph
  • the index of cycleways/inhabitants put Reggio Emilia at the first place in Italy for cycling infrastructure

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Above you have the map detailing the cycleways. The map is taken from the City administration website. However, it does not seem very recent. Most of the ways indicated by dotted lines have now been completed.

But how are those cycleways?

Let’s begin with saying that the vast majority of cycleways are shared with pedestrians, and for this reason they are mainly called ‘piste ciclo-pedonali’. Cycling is fairly sedate, slowish, generally on simple vintage bicycles, normal clothes, no hi-viz, no helmets, and a lot of older people and children cycle, so sharing it with pedestrian is somehow justified.

People are also used to cycle among pedestrians in the Centro Storico and pedestrians, whom in most cases also have a bicycle, are used to walk when there are bicycles around. That does not mean that there are no conflicts at all, or that having dedicated cycleways could not possibly further boost the share of trips made by bicycle which, at 23% (2016), it is currently the fifth best in Italy (Bolzano/Bozen and Pesaro are at the top with 28%).

Below I show you some examples. I took most of the pics in October last year (2017), while I was visiting my parents for a couple of weeks, on my usual routes. Next time I’ll explore different parts of the cycleways network.

viale umberto

The fist pic above is of the path that goes along Viale Umberto I, an important and busy road which connects the densely populated South part of the city with the Centro Storico. There, if you do not wish to share your way with pedestrians, you can cycle faster on the dedicated strip on the main road. On the other side of the road, the shared path is a bit wider and street furniture reduces instances of conflicts among users.

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The possibility of choosing whether to cycle on a shared path or on a lane on the road applies to most of the main routes that spread from the city centre, like in Viale Regina Elena (to the West of the city) below.

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And indeed up there the shared path is quite narrow.

The shared pavement in Viale Regina Elena above is narrow indeed, and there are certainly other locations in the city where shared pavements are definitely not wide. Generally the narrow bits are not too long, or not too busy with pedestrians and personally I tend to prefer them to riding on the road with motor traffic. However, they certainly do not represent great examples of cycling infrastructure. Nonetheless, in the case of Viale Regina Elena, just 50 metres away from the location above the shared pavement widens as below…

regina elena 2

Viale Regina Elena goes West of the city from the ‘Circonvallazione‘ (Inner ring road) that contours the Centro Storico. There, the existing path was recently restructured and a better bi-directional cycleway is now in place. It is shared, but certainly wide enough for a very pleasant ride.

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The one above is along Viale Isonzo. The path continues into Viale Piave with the same width and quality but then narrows down for a little stretch…

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…still ok, but certainly not as good as before.

Back to the South of the city now, with some more examples of fairly wide share paths. The one below is on the approach to the San Pellegrino Bridge going South.

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Although on the bridge itself, you are squeezed a bit….

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The sidewalk on the bridge used to be much smaller, and the road there much more intimidating for both cyclists and pedestrians. When I was little, living on the South side of the city, the bridge represented the limit beyond which I could not cycle on my own. It was not only my mamma finally giving up when I was 13 year old, but also some wise urban planning (wider pavements and more cycle lanes…) that then finally enabled me to cycle on my own to the Centro Storico.

Back to the present time. A 5 minutes ride South of the bridge above, various traffic calming measures were applied to Viale Lelio Basso below…

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Viale Lelio Basso is an important road connecting high density residential areas with the Outer Ring Road South-East, but also the location of the Villa Verde Hospital on your left in the pic below…

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Not far from Viale Lelio Basso are Viale Rosa Luxembourg, about a 15 minute ride away from the Centro Storico, close to developing residential areas and the future site of an ‘unpopular’ shopping centre (on the nice green area at the top of the big roundabout in the image below…), and Via Alessandro Tassoni, that connects the city to a very fashionable residential area ‘Canali’ (about 5 minutes away by car, 10 by bicycle).

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There are two roundabouts in the intersections of these important streets (see image above), and here it is how you deal with them on a bicycle…

Sorry about the quality of the video (and by the way the speed is 2x). Nevertheless, the video shows a good example of a very pleasant and safe cycleway that bypasses a big roundabout. Yes, not up to Dutch or Danish standards, especially in terms of tarmac (extremely hot Summers and very cold Winters do not help) but still pleasant to ride, in my opinion. And, what about the underpass? Well, I always thought it was fine but in the Netherlands they wonder whether the tunnel between Schijndel and Wijbosch is a disaster or not, so I suspend my judgement here…

Generally, where there are no underpasses, cycleways take you ‘around’ the roundabouts (like in the first one in the video). In some cases, there are traffic lights that pedestrians and cyclists can action. When that is not the case, drivers do tend to stop to let people cycling cross, even more than what they normally do with pedestrians. Some accidents did occur at crossings in proximity of roundabouts though, especially those where there are two-lane streets. But I’ll talk more about roundabouts and accidents in a future post.

In what ways are cycleways separated from traffic?

In the pics above you have already seen different types of separation, mainly trees,  raised kerbs, bollards, or simply good bits of grass. Below you have some other examples.

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Ok, I know it is not a proper separation, but the street above, Via della Costituzione, again not very far from the Centro Storico going along the River Crostolo, is a good example of those streets that were previously two-way and were then converted into one-way for motor vehicles with the addition of a cycleway (important note, irrespective from the presence of a dedicated lane, one-way system do not apply to bicycles in the whole of the Centro Storico and on a number of residential streets).

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Separation is much better above (Via Lungo Crostolo). And, in case the blocks of cement were not enough to protect you from traffic, you also have the recycling bins to help….Important contextual note here, the province of Reggio Emilia has one of the highest percentage of recycled waste in Italy (74%) – In Brighton, UK, where I live now, it is 29%…). And to achieve so, you do need space for recycling bins….

But, apart from the recycling bins here and there, that path along Via Lungo Crostolo is quite good and goes along that road for quite a bit, connecting the more densely populated South of the city to the industrial part in the North (running at the West of the Centro Storico). In the second part, the path is separated by a raised kerb,

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and it has also been widened in correspondence of the apparently inevitable bins….

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Along Via Lungo Crostolo there are various bridges, two of which for people cycling or walking. Below is the ‘Passerella del Gattaglio’ (not sure that is the official name)

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which would be challenging with a non-standard bicycle, like my UK-based cargo bike because of the barriers, which are there to deter people with vespas to use the passage (and yes, there are recycling bins next to it as well…). Much better is the Ponte del Cimitero below (again I am not sure it is its official name)…

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…about 100m away, closed to traffic years ago when a new bridge was built nearby. And from there you can also reach the Centro Storico in about 5 minutes via the following shared path,

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That’s it for this introductory post on the cycling infrastructure in Reggio Emilia. The share of cycling on the total number of trips is high, and on an upward trend, but certainly the city can do much better as, despite the relative high bicycle usage and strong cycling culture, motor vehicle traffic and air pollution remain a considerable problem. And, it would also be useful to understand why cycling rates are higher in other cities in Italy with less cycling infrastructure and tradition. I have some ideas about why is that, but I am going to talk about all of the above in future posts.

Well, that’s it. What do you think about the cycling infrastructure above?

If you have any question or comment, please do not hesitate to add them below. And if you know the city, and have things to add or correct, please do so.

All the best

Alberto

8 February 2018

All opinions expressed in this post are my own and I have received no incentive whatsoever from any of the companies, organisations or businesses mentioned above

Here you can read about me, this is a bit about my research, and here you can see my publications. You can follow me on twitter here

 

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