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Romans Leave Cars Home in Experiment to Break Traffic Chaos

From Reuters

Several thousand Romans heeded a plea to leave their cars at home Friday and were rewarded with the pleasure of rediscovering the peace and splendor of their city center free for a day of its traffic-clogged chaos.

“It’s like magic. We never dreamed the traffic could flow so easily,” a delighted traffic policeman commented as “Traffic-Free Friday,” the ambitious one-day anti-traffic experiment initiated by Mayor Nicola Signorello, began.

Schools and shops opened an hour later in an attempt to ease the suffocating morning rush hour, when overcrowded buses crawl through thoroughfares choked with double-parked cars, delivery trucks and road-repair areas.

Hundreds of posters urged Romans to leave their cars at home and walk or use public transport. Newspapers urged compliance to make the dream of a traffic-free capital closer to reality.

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As Romans took to the 200 additional buses and 2,000 extra taxis available, city officials said there were 25% fewer private cars than usual in the cobbled streets of the half a square mile of the center in the morning. The bus authorities said there was a 17% rise in the number of passengers.

An extra 3,000 traffic police strictly applied restrictions on entry to the city center that are normally flouted by Italian drivers. Pedestrians crossed main roads in unaccustomed safety without the accompaniment of screeching brakes and horn-hooting of impatient motorists.

Outside the restricted center, however, traffic was still heavy in the afternoon as many Romans remained stubbornly at the wheel. One taxi driver said he thought there were only slightly fewer cars on the outer roads and that the extra buses had added to the customary chaos.

In the central Piazza del Popolo, usually a pedestrians’ nightmare, a dance troupe staged an impromptu performance. A bicycle rental firm reported a brisk trade.

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City officials estimate there are 50,000 too many cars in the capital each day--a major factor in making it one of the noisiest in the world with a decibel level of 90 at peak hours, compared with the European Communities’ recommended 65-decibel maximum dose.

Today the dream will be over, but city officials hope to draw from it lessons for a more permanent plan and a change of attitude by car-loving Romans.

“It will take us time to change our ways,” one Roman commented.


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