On yer bike

Be Green in Florence

Melissa Morozzo
June 18, 2009

I love my bicycle. I love it more than I love tea, spaghetti with aglio, olio and peperoncino and waking up on a Sunday morning, thinking it's Monday for a second and then realising that I can snuggle down for another couple of hours. That's a lot of love. When I first moved to Italy, buying a bike was like buying freedom: it costs nearly nothing to run and will take me anywhere. I am still constantly amazed that this strange contraption can convert the puny strength of my spindly legs into enough power to get me across the city in 20 minutes. One needn't be an ecological expert to realise that cycling is far better for the environment than is driving. It's also healthier and a hell of a lot cheaper. Not only do I avoid spending on petrol and parking, but I can save on a gym membership, too. I don't worry about traffic jams or bus strikes. My journey to work is exactly twice as long by public transport as it is by pedal-power. I don't have to spend 30 minutes on the number 14 with my face pressed into a stranger's sweaty armpit. Florence's city council estimates that there are 28,000 cyclists pedalling around town, and it hopes to encourage even more people onto two wheels by laying over 100kms extra cycle paths by 2010. This would be a vast improvement on the current situation where, apart from certain disconnected tracts of piste ciclabili, cyclists must fight for space on traffic-clogged roads. Cycling is also being promoted by the local authorities through the +bici +baci ((more bicycles, more kisses') advertising campaign. Nobody seems to be able to explain the connection between cycling and kissing, but if it gets a few people out of their cars then it's a good thing. The council is also behind the Milleunabici scheme, brainchild of the Associazione Cittt Ciclabile Onlus, a pro-bicycle organisation. Through Milleunabici, residents and tourists can rent bikes from various spots around town from 2 to 8 a day. A monthly pass for residents costs 20.For a complete list of prices and rental stations, see www.firenzecittaciclabile.org. Another useful site for cyclists in Florence is www.florencebikepages.com, with its useful information about bike tours, cycle paths and taking a bike on public transport. Of course, cycling in Florence isn't all smooth gear changes. As was revealed in TF 102, bike accidents are on the rise in Italy: the national cycling association, Asaps, reports that one person dies each day and 40 more are hospitalised for injuries suffered while cycling. Those statistics scared me into buying a helmet. Helmets have come a long way since I last had one in 1980something, but I still find them impossibly geeky. I figure that as the only cyclist in Florence to use arm signals, I'm probably off the geekdom scale anyway. By becoming a member of Firenze in Bici Onlus (www.firenzeinbici.net; 15 membership includes RC insurance), I got my helmet for a cool 14 from Florence By Bike in via San Zanobi. Firenze in Bici campaigns to support cyclists' rights, regularly organizing events to raise awareness of cyclists' needs, such as Firenze all'Alba, an early morning bike ride around Florence, when the roads are blissfully free of traffic, ending with a very civilised cappuccino and brioche. It also promotes Critical Mass Firenze, a pro-cycling/anti-car club that meets on the last Thursday of every month in Piazza Santissima Annunziata for a mass pedalata through town. I've been trying to find out exactly how much of a difference cycling makes to the environment, in comparison to driving, and came up with some interesting information. Did you know that 7 to12 bikes can fit into one car-size parking space? Some experts claim that cyclists are exposed to no more exhaust fumes and pollution than are people sitting inside their cars (I'd love to know if this is true). On the other hand, someone has calculated the amount of energy needed to produce the food that the human engine' requires to power a bike, compared to the energy needed to produce the gasoline guzzled by your average car, and the results (at www.bicycleuniverse.info) are disturbing: meat production is so wasteful that walking actually uses more fossil energy than driving, if you get your calories for walking from red meat.' However, this was more of a critique of the US meat industry. There are still many reasons why cycling is better for the environment. The first bike I bought in Italy was stolen long ago, which brings me to the other great problem for cyclists in Florence. Everyone has a sad stolen-bike story. An ex-colleague said she saw a thief as he cycled away on a different bike, carrying her bike on his shoulder. Despite all this though, cycling is definitely the way forward in Florence in terms of saving the environment, time and money. Just think how exhaust fumes stain and blacken Florence's lovely old buildings and monuments. If you need further convincing, I'll leave you with the words of a much more eminent geek than me: I thought of it while riding my bike,' explained Albert Einstein about his theory of relativity.GREEN FEEDBACKThe Mugnone litter collection organised by the Democrats Abroad (now considering changing their name to River democRats) was a huge success. Over 40 bags of trash were collected, the contents of which ranged from the obvious and seedy items like condom wrappers to a teddy bear that was leaning against the stones of the bridge. A great time was had by all. Look for more similar events in the future!  OTHER COOL GREEN STUFFCheck out www.wwoof.org.  I keep meeting enthusiastic wwoofers', so I think this site deserves a mention. Wwoof puts volunteers in touch with an international network of organic farms that offer board and meals in exchange for help on the farm. If you fancy learning about organic farming and don't mind getting your hands dirty while on holiday, then check it out! The Thrifty Cookbook by Kate Colquhoun (Bloomsbury) is quirky, fun, inspirational and infinitely useful. How not to waste a single thing in your fridge, from wine dregs to soggy carrots and stale crusts. Your grandmother would be proud. The Florentine wants to hear from you if you know of any eco-projects around town, or if you have anything to say about any of the topics covered in the Be Green In Flo pages! We look forward to hearing from you at inbox@theflorentine.net

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