I am currently processing a whole sequence of photos and stories about my visits to the two Italian cities of Verona and Padua (Padova).
But here is an opening thought. They are only 50km apart, they share many aspects in common in terms of size, culture, antiquity. But in just one aspect of policy one has been returned to us as a liveable, likeable vibrant city. The other is being strangled to death by laissez faire.
Verona is still gripped by the absolute tyranny of the car. There has been almost no attempt to restrict the disfigurement of the city by congestion, parking, noise and fumes. The restricted area in the city centre for motorised traffic is tiny and any priority given to alternatives is minimal. There are almost no cycling and bus lanes. All but one main square has full access to cars all day.
But of course in true “I do not despair” spirit this doesn’t stop me finding cycling in and around the city being an uplifting feeling, not least because it is a beautiful place, but by far my best moments were quite roads and corners, where I could find them.
A week later Padua. Nowhere near as celebrated as Verona internationally and with much fewer tourists.
Yesterday morning I wandered into the city early on foot and last night I was able to shoot around the streets on a borrowed bike from my local hosts.
Immediately outside the hotel I came across the first of 150km of cycle paths. And then once I had slipped past the boundary of the old city walls I was almost immediately into the extensive pedestrianized centre. It isn’t entirely car free, there are designated through routes and access is allowed to some areas. But at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning the contrast is just incredible.
The streets were not silent – oh no. But the sounds were precious. Firstly people talking – as they walked and cycled and opened the many market stalls. But best of all the almost permanent sound of rattling metal – bicycles on cobbles – the endless array of cheap town bikes that dominate the Italian domestic cycling market bouncing their way around the streets.
It reminded very much of my trip to Bologna in May, again not such a celebrity city as Verona but one where civic pride manifests itself in giving the streets to its people and its visitors. As an international advocate for cycling and sustainability the most important lesson I keep being given is that we spend a lot of time addressing national and even international policies that affect cycling. But within the same country, the same funding climate, the same road laws, the same culture local political will is the determining factor in whether a city wants to be liveable or not.
I will be posting a few more highlights from my visits in the next week or so, but I’ll complete this post with two photographs.
Both are cathedral squares. Which one would you like to spend time in?