Stop. Lock and Roll

Cycling in the city

Miriam Hurley
July 13, 2006

Florence is perfect for biking. Well, almost perfect. The center of town is flat. The climate is mild.  The city is small and most points in Flor-ence proper can be reached in less than 20 minutes by bike. Bikes free their riders from the plagues of bus strikes, impossible parking, blocked streets and high gas prices. Fast, cheap, healthy and convenient. On the downside, there are few designated bike paths or pro-cycling rules and amenities in Florence, discouraging riders from being faith-ful to the letter of traffic laws and making trips across town unnecessarily adventurous. There are very few bike racks, encouraging imagi-native bike-parking solutions. And the citys pollution is especially hard on bikers. Getting caught behind a big ATAF city bus on a narrow street threatens to undo the health benefits of biking.  Florences long-standing problems with too much traffic and too much pollution, harming ears, lungs and historic monuments, could be much eased by more widespread bike riding. In the opinion of pro-cycling Florentine organizations such as Firenzeinbici and Firenze Citt Ciclabile, it would take little to improve cycling conditions in Florence. Their mission is to pressure the city government to do that little bit. Cyclists ask for more bike paths, more bike racks, and city planning favoring bikes. This sounds much like what the city gov-ernment promises. Deputy Mayor of Florence Giuseppe Matulli responds to those complaining about cycling conditions in Florence: This Administration has been working for some time to approve provisions that would favor the use of bicycles as an alternative to pol-luting transportation means. The primary objectives are to increase cycling paths, make new signage for bike routes, complete missing sections of cycling paths and improve and add bike racks.While we wait for these good intentions (presumably stuck in traffic) to bear fruit, biking is still the best way to get around Florence. Armed with a loud bell to get through tourist throngs, a hefty bike lock (essential for thwarting thieves who will always go for the flim-sily-locked bike first) and open eyes, you can happily and safely make the streets of Florence your own. The rhythms and rules of traffic may differ greatly from your country of origin, so start out slowly.  Keep your side vision well open and your hands near the brakes. Watch out for zealous taxi drivers. Keep visible with bright clothing and lights. Finding the best routes to get around safely and quickly takes some trial and error. Using bike paths marked on a map (see www.florencebikepages.com) is a good place to start, though they are unlikely to take you all the way to your destination. A bike path rings the historic center; a good tactic for central targets is to position yourself on this path, which stretches from the Fortezza di Basso to the Arno near Piazza Beccaria, and find a spoke street to penetrate the center. Bikes may not be parked on sidewalks or attached to poles. Naturally, with legal options in short supply, this rule is often ignored. As part of the recent Amo Firenze (I love Florence) clean-up campaign (which cranky cyclists suggested be renamed I hate cyclists), many illegally parked bikes were forcibly removed and brought to an inaccessible lot where steep fines encouraged their owners to leave them forever. Under pressure from biking and environmental associations, officials now leave a notice on the bike before towing.Tourists can rent bikes from businesses such as Florence by Bike (www.florencebybike.com), by the hour or day. Second-hand bikes can be hard to come by in Florence. New, bottom-of-the-line bikes run between 100 and 150 euro. Reselling a bike at the end of a stay is easy by word of mouth or fliers. Florence by Bike sells bikes and will buy them back, for a reduced amount, within 120 days. Especially during the warm months, many cycling events are planned in Florence and Tuscany. For a list of rides, consult the calendars at any of the sites listed under More Info. Through such rides, advocacy groups and dedication to human-powered transportation, cyclists are uniting to bring Florence that much closer to perfection. MORE INFO:Florence Bike Pages (in English)Map of bike paths, places to rent bikes and cycling eventswww.florencebikepages.comFirenze in Bici Association (in Italian)www.firenzeinbici.netInformation on cycling advocacy and cycling eventsFirenze Citt Cicabilewww.firenzecittaciclabile.orgInformation on cycling advocacy and cycling event

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