05 August 2017


After my trip to Italy and writing about bike lane controversies in Brooklyn, I got to thinking about my sense of space, as a cyclist.

It took a couple of days of riding in Rome to acclimate myself to the ways drivers behave around cyclists.  I can say the same for Paris and France, but I had an even more acute sense of how drivers' and cyclists' sense of shared space is different while in the land of Michelangelo and Caravaggio.

You can ride through one of those traffic circles, or any other intersection, and a motorist might be a gear-cable's breadth from you.  Yet you would be in less danger than if you'd had a wider berth--or even riding in a "protected" bike lane--in most US cities.  

Italian--particularly Roman--drivers are often called "crazy".  Yet they not only are more aware of two-wheeled vehicles (including Vespas and motorcycles, as well as bicycles) than their American counterparts, they are more accustomed to driving in--and sharing--really tight spaces.

I was reminded of this when looking, again, at this street in Florence, between the Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery.

It's about half as wide as most sidewalks in New York!  Yet I actually saw a car and bike pass through it at the same time.  And the driver didn't honk his/her horn!

I also couldn't help but to notice the condition of the bicycles parked next to it.  If they'd been locked to a New York City parking meter or sign post, this could have been their fate:


  1. What strikes one in Italy is the Integrity of public spaces. People relate to piazzas and streets the same way they relate to their own living room. But they are owned in common. This attitude requires a strong identification with place and a sense of shared deep history. Very few New Yorkers say they are "New Yorkers" as convincinly as a Florentine says he is "Florentine". There is a difference in quality.


  2. Leo--You make a great point. In New York, most people come from someplace else, whether Palermo or Peoria. In other parts of the US, people don't have as deep roots as they do in other countries.

    You just might have explained why Americans--especially conservatives and libertarians--are disdainful, even contemptuous, of public space.