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On Two Wheels in Italian Traffic

by Margaret Logan
The New York Times
4 February 1990

Approaching Cremona, wondering about surprises, I found a fine one -- the bridge across the Po had a bicycle path along its lengthy span. Soon the road became a leafy boulevard, fully half of its width -- second surprise -- restricted to bicycles. After a stretch of substantial villas, I reached the center, an ornate and absorbing composition of cathedral, bell tower, baptistery and communal palace....

At a cafe table overlooking the square I tried to sort it out. A city simultaneously thriving and peaceful was a phenomenon profoundly new, in Italy or anywhere else on this motor-infested planed. What did it mean?

The shadows growing long, a hum of talk overlaid the tranquillity as the square filled with people. It was time for the passeggiata, that sociable mix of errands, shopping and conversation that so reliably entertains the watching traveler. Some Cremonese were on foot but many more were riding bicycles.

They were not like exercising or message delivering Americans. The costume was elegant -- had that woman deliberately chosen her polka-dot dress and black straw skimmer to coordinate with the shiny blackness of her bicycle?

The pace was stately; these vehicles braked for chat. The most elderly stroller, in their orderly company, needed not fear. even the kids seemed uninterested in hot-dog terrorism. Most blessedly, I couldn't hear the chain- saw blat of a single motor scooter.

I joined the passeggiata, riding through streets that barred motor traffic with tubs of greenery and flowers. Everywhere there were bicycles. At the hotel, the manager filled me in. Cremona's streets, except for a few necessary arteries, were closed about four years ago. This was also the case in other cities of the Padana -- Parma, Bologna, Mantova, Modena, Piacenza, Pavia. Yes, life had become more civil. No, people had raised no outcry. "The bicycle is too useful," the manager said. "Cars, here are not useful."

Not useful! The homely truth of this rocked me. Later, at dinner, I ran wild with its possibilities. Was Italy, where the Renaissance had begun, again pointing the way to wonders unprecedented in human history? Certainly nothing could be more in line with Renaissance thought -- man the measure of all things -- than Cremona's decision to put people ahead of their machines....

Note: She has bicycled in 13 countries.


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