Bikes, long the stuff of students and environmentalists in this fashion capital, are catching on with mainstream Milanese.
There’s a green side to the economic crisis in this fashion capital: People are commuting by bicycle more often. Until a couple of years ago, bikes were relatively rare in this chaotic city of 1.3 million – and were mostly associated with high school students or hard-core environmentalists. But now more Milanese are relying on bikes to get around, driven by the high cost of fuel and government incentives.
The Italian government has long subsidized the car market, offering economic incentives to those who bought Italian-made cars, most notably Fiats. But it has recently started subsidizing the bicycle market as well: Citizens can buy bikes with a 30 percent discount, saving up to €200 (about US$290).
The Ministry for the Environment invested €7.7 million ($112 million) in the program, which in theory is available nationwide. But so far it has proved to be effective only here in the north – possibly because this is the only region where people can pedal to work without needing much athletic preparation (the Po Valley is the only large flatland of this mountainous country). Since last April, when the program started, 35,000 subsidized bikes have been sold in Milan.
“Now the most important thing is to make sure those bikes are really used in everyday life,” says Eugenio Galli, who heads a cyclists’ association. “Incentives are a good thing, but one also needs facilities.” Here in Milan, the local authorities are also pushing for making the city more bike-friendly, building bike paths and creating a bike-share service for those who don’t want the hassles of owning a bike. For a yearly fee, people can pick up a city-owned bike in a number of dedicated spots, and drop it off in another.