Traffic ban changes patterns around Rome's iconic Colosseum

Major artery through Rome aims to cut pollution, save monuments

Rome, August 3 - A major artery running through Rome's historic centre alongside its iconic Colosseum was closed to almost all traffic Saturday, amid heated debate under a scorching August summer sky. Pedestrians took over most of the normally congested and chaotic Via dei Fori Imperiali, as Mayor Ignazio Marino claimed his plan will reduce vehicle traffic by 90% and eliminate some of the pollution and harmful vibrations caused by the steady flow of automobiles. Bicycles, pedestrians, emergency vehicles, buses and taxis are to be the only traffic allowed on the multi-lane street that runs through a major archeological area, stretching from the Colosseum, past the ancient Roman Forum to the central Piazza Venezia. "Thanks to this pedestrianization project, Via dei Fori Imperiali will become the most stunningly beautiful boulevard in the world," the City of Rome claims on its project website. "Here is where it all started, and, here, today's Rome is reborn". The route, built by Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, was significantly quieted, as motorists were alerted to the new restrictions by traffic signs installed earlier in the week. Still, some aggravated motorists complained they did not see any signs and were confused by the new routing. "It's a mess, I don't understand anything," of where motorists are now supposed to drive, said one. To mark the revolution in Roman traffic, stages were erected for a 'Notte dei Fori' (Forum Night), an evening of shows and concerts Saturday to celebrate the artery's urban rebirth. Then, beginning at 19:00 on Sunday, public transportation, taxis and emergency vehicles were to be allowed back onto the part of road closest to the Colosseum while the ban continued on private vehicles. Drastically limiting traffic, said the mayor, is crucial to preventing further damage to the Colosseum, or Flavian Amphitheatre, which is close to 2,000 years old and feeling its age. Construction began in 72 AD on the monument, which is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. Its preservation is a far more pressing concern, the mayor suggested, than complaints of inconvenience from some local merchants and impatient drivers. "Today is the beginning of a dream," said Marino, a 58-year-old transplant surgeon who travels frequently by bicycle. "I believe we have a responsibility to keep the richness of history for the entire human kind - it is more important than a shortcut," Marino added in an interview broadcast Saturday by the BBC. In fact, Marino - whose plan has captured headlines internationally - has also declared that his current plans to protect the zone from motor vehicles may not go far enough. ''I am dreaming of arriving at the total pedestrianization of the Roman Forum during my administration,'' Marino has said, adding that extending a metro line would be key to the plan, in order to offer Romans alternative public transport to buses along that stretch of road. Marino has suggested he wants to eventually crack through the existing pavement to open new archeological digs. His office is also aiming to establish an office in Brussels to look for European Union funds needed to begin archeological digs in Via dei Fori Imperiali. The dramatic change in traffic patterns was as controversial as a 25-million euro restoration project, given the green light only days earlier, on the ancient Colosseum itself. Management at the monument have said work would begin immediately after an administrative court rejected the final appeal by consumer group Codacons against restoration funding by Diego Della Valle, owner of the luxury shoe brand Tod''s. Codacons had long complained that the bidding process that gave the contract to Tod's was not properly conducted, was too secretive, and may have given the company too many concessions. Cleaning and restoration of external surfaces of the Colosseum is planned, to deal with damage wrought by pollution and decades of weather systems. It's expected that 10 arches at a time will be covered in scaffolding for recovery work. The Roman superintendency of archaeology already began work in January to create a safety zone around the ancient Roman arena to prevent injuries from possible falling materials.

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