Rome has as pretty much many cars as London*. Problem is, it’s a city a third the size, around three million compared to nine million inhabitants. And much of the historical centre consists of tiny windy cobbled streets, some of them – nominally at least – off-limits to vehicles.
Hence, there’s an issue with parcheggio: parking.
We’ve always laughed a bit about the absurdity of Roman parking, about how if the road’s full or somehow off-limits, the pavement seems to be an acceptable alternative. Even if that means pedestrians have to squeeze by – and people with prams, or, god forbid, wheelchair users, cannot fit by at all. (I seriously feel for wheelchair users in Rome: the pavements are in a terrible state, even when they’re not garlanded with dog poo.) Even the cops up the road park on the zebra crossing. While many, many car owners don’t seem to care much about their tyres and ride up onto the kerb if they can’t be arsed to concentrate on parking well, or there isn’t quite enough room.
I even asked an Italian friend about it, and he was bewildered when I said it was largely unheard of, or at least thoroughly frowned on, to simply park on the pavement in London. I don’t think he was being ironic.
Frankly, though, it’s not funny – the packed parking reflects the vehicle ownership situation, and these levels of personal vehicle usage just shouldn’t be happening in the 21st century, here or anywhere else. It’s not viable. Not with all we know about climate change. Not with the basic fact that an environment dominated by vehicles isn’t an environment well suited to people.
I feel very strongly about this sort of thing; always fantasised about writing a book about how vehicles radically compromised the human environment through the second half of the 20th century. I never get my shit together but this guy, Taras Grescoe, has. Must read his book, even though it apparently doesn’t consider the major city I know best: London.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about blogging about Roman parking for ages. Never quite reached that point where stimulus outweighs laziness though. Until today, when I saw a note shoved into the windscreen wiper (tergicristallo – new word for me) of a car nearby. telling the owner off for blocking the route to buggies and wheelchairs. So apparently not all Romans are blasé about random, inconsiderate parking.
This particular location has been bugging me for weeks. There’s a lovely flight of steps near where we live. It cuts through a patch of semi-wild land, dropping down between the hairpins of a street. At the bottom, a zebra crossing – frequently parked on – cuts straight across the road to, well, nothing much: more parked cars, a wall, no pavement. So you have to go diagonally, to a break in the wall, where the pavement resumes.
Except that someone had parked a car across the break in the wall, so you have to climb around. One form of protest I’ve seen here is to pull up the tergicristalli. It’s a quiet, vaguely polite form of protest, which would probably give the driver some irritation, but not really irritation commensurate with that of innumerable pedestrians.
The wiper protest was taken to another level with this particularly vehicle, as it has been there for so many weeks. Someone has broken the wipers. Gosh. This flyer, meanwhile, was left by a woman with a buggy I suspect. (Questo spazio non e’ un parcheggio. Vergognati! – “This isn’t a parking space. Shame on you!”) How she negotiated the blockage I don’t know.
The increasingly knackered-looking car in question has been there so long, however, I’ve come to suspect it’s been dumped. Two other cars opposite were burnt-out earlier this week, so maybe it’s a popular spot for delinquents, joyriders or somesuch. But my suspicions were aroused mostly by the fact that the car doesn’t have Italian number plates. They’re Swiss. A Swiss would never park like that, surely?
* Time Out Rome 2008 quotes a Eurostat survey, that shows Rome to be the most dangerous EU capital for road safety: 8.37 dead and injured accidents per 1000 population. Next in the list is Copenhagen, with 1.4 per 1000. It says there are 950 vehicles per 1000 population, compared to London’s comparatively sane 300 per 1000 population. I don’t have TO’s source material and can’t find anything more recent. Hey, it’s a blog – don’t expect journalistic standards!