May 14th, 2013

We were touring Italy last month checking out the urban biking scene in a range of cities. This makes for some interesting comparisons to the United States and leads us to this quiz:

What is the biggest difference in urban biking in Italy compared with the US?

1. Many Italian cities have retrofitted separate bike lanes in their cities.

2. Bicyclists can ride in bus lanes and on sidewalks without irritating pedestrians.

3. Bicyclists are not intimidated by cobblestone streets, streetcar tracks or rush hour traffic.

4. There are more older people than younger people riding bikes.

5. Helmets are rarely seen except on tourists.

6. Taxis, busses, trucks, and trams all seem to respect cyclists.

7. Bike Share programs are common even in smaller cities.

8. Lycra is not the prevalent dress code.

9. E-bikes are everywhere, and some are quite elegant.

10. There are more nuns riding bikes.

Ok, that was a fake quiz. All of the above are true. The biggest difference is that you see a lot more women riding than men. Mothers texting while riding, older women with groceries, younger women headed to work. They all seem to ride confidently making left hand turns in traffic and riding over rail lines, without looking stressed out. Perhaps this is what accounts for the seeming lack of road rage, the lower levels of testosterone on the streets?

What makes this all the more interesting is that the Italians love their cars (and speed) like almost no other nation on Earth. They have an illustrious tradition that ranges from common Fiats and Alfa Romeos to fancy Ferraris, Maseratis, Bugattis, and many other iconic cars. Car ownership per capita is much higher than any other major European country, despite the fact that they pay more for gas than any other European country (~ $10 a gallon). But they seem to get along on their city roads. Italians taught us to respect and enjoy pizza and pasta. Perhaps they can teach us how to respect and enjoy each other on the streets?

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