By Alvise Armellini and Federico Maccioni
MILAN (Reuters) – The city of Milan is forcing buses and lorries to install blind spot sensors in a bid to reduce road casualties among cyclists and pedestrians following a string of accidents, some fatal, that have triggered protests.
The Italian metropolis is also tightening the rules of its congestion charge system in a bid to contain pollution and traffic in a city where air quality has long fallen short of European Union standards.
Under the new rules, entering into force on Monday, vans, buses and lorries will be banned from most of the city from Monday to Friday, during working hours, unless fitted with the sensors, warning stickers and beepers.
Some temporary exceptions apply until 2024 or 2025 to give drivers time to adjust to the new regulations.
Eleonora Ciscato, a university researcher who like many Milanese began using her bicycle more in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, welcomed the introduction of the sensors, but called for bolder curbs on car traffic.
“It is very dangerous to ride a bicycle, there are several obstacles such as cobblestones, tram tracks, and the city was not designed for cyclists. Add to that the heavy traffic and the high level of stress motorists endure,” she told Reuters.
Cycling accidents in Milan rose to 1,250 in 2021 and 1,467 in 2022, from 980-1,060 in the 2014-2019 period, according to a study by Paolo Bozzuto, a professor of urban planning at Milan Polytechnic.
A 14-year-old boy was killed by a tram while cycling to school in November, and this year at least five more cyclists died.
“The problem is how to make cyclists safe, because my concern now is that in light of these tragedies someone, perhaps even legitimately, may be afraid and no longer use bicycles”, Mayor Giuseppe Sala said this week.
On Sept. 21, pro-cycling groups protested in four separate locations, holding up traffic and holding signs and banners that read “enough with deaths on the street”, “peace on the road” and “we want safety immediately”.
Milan will also extend a ban on older diesel and petrol vehicles, similar to one that was due to begin in the neighbouring region of Piedmont but was postponed after protests triggered a government intervention.
Milan and its region of Lombardy, as well as Piedmont, are part of the Po Valley, one of the most polluted areas in Europe, for which Italy was in 2020 found in systematic breach of EU clear air directives by the EU Court of Justice.
(Editing by Toby Chopra)