This week I’m staying in Parma, Italy, famous for its cheese & prosciutto, and it’s almost embarrassing how often I’ve thought of John Cranley.
Since the economic crisis in 2008, the number of people using bicycles as transportation has sky-rocketed in Europe. It used to be concentrated in Amsterdam and the young people in Scandanavia – but with the price of gas going up, everybody is making the switch. Parma’s particularly interesting in that they’ve turned their entire city center – an area at least twice the size of the basin in Cincinnati – into a giant pedestrian/bike zone. Buses and taxis are allowed on a couple of major thoroughfares and residents who own a car can drive on smaller streets – but everybody else is on a bike, including the guys in suits carrying briefcases to their offices.
And when I say everyone – I mean everyone. People in their seventies and eighties, baskets full of groceries. Toddlers in bike seats. Entire families. My landlady, who lives in the suburbs, told me it’s easier for her to take the bike into town than drive her car. A bicycle with lock came with my apartment rental and every morning I ride it around to see the sights and run errands without ever having to worry about finding a parking place.
Restricted car traffic hasn’t hurt business at all. It’s made the city center more enjoyable. Even though this is the traditional period of vacation when everybody goes to the sea or the mountains and Parma isn’t all that popular with foreign tourists – the streets are still full of all kinds of activity.
The reason I keep thinking about our new Bike Mayor in Parma is because of his statement that people will never give up their cars to ride a bike and that those of us who do can share the sidewalks with pedestrians. I keep thinking, “If Mayor Cranley were here, if he could just see what’s already happening and how a bike & pedestrian friendly environment improves the quality of life for everyone, I know he would understand.”
So, Mayor Cranley, I wish you were here and I took these photos just for you:
When people ride bikes for transportation, they wear regular street clothes. Notice the lady in the red dress (Italian women all dye their hair – she was in her Sixties) who has stopped to talk to friends. When cars no longer dominate the streets, restaurants & cafes spill out onto the pavement for a continual street party. No vacant storefronts here.
Obviously nobody has ridden these rusted beauties in quite a while – but they’re still keepers. Love the plastic bag covering the seat. Shiny new bikes are kind of an embarrassment to people who use them for transportation.
Electric bikes are becoming more and more popular. Even the bike share program in Paris has switched over to using them and we noticed everybody hopping on and off all day all day all over town. Never ridden one – but that little extra oomph must make life easier.
Bikes used for transportation are never, ever stripped-down. They’re heavy with lots of equipment – headlights, child seats, kickstands, bells. The point is not speed. It’s practicality. I didn’t see one single bike in Parma that didn’t have at least a handlebar basket & most folks also carry panniers. Everybody does their grocery shopping by bike. BTW, this is normal bike parking for a single building on a weekday.