Grumbles and confusion follow Roman Forum revolution

Closure of Via dei Fori Imperiali aims to protect ancient centre

Grumbles and confusion follow Roman Forum revolution

Rome, August 5 - Controversy continued to swirl Monday around changes to traffic patterns designed to protect Rome's iconic Colosseum and turn much of a main artery into a pedestrian zone. After a Saturday night celebration of the new urban plan on the closed street near the historic Forum and Colosseum, many motorists were frustrated Monday morning at the new traffic routes. But tourists seemed pleased to walk in the shadow of the Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, enjoying fresher air and less smog. "It's a beautiful idea," said one, taking shelter from the blazing hot August sun beneath an umbrella. However, that sentiment came in contrast to complaints from drivers, said traffic cops, adding that motorists will need time to adjust to the new system. Some merchants, who fear the traffic patterns will hurt their businesses, are planning to block traffic on the nearby busy via Merulana in protest on Sept. 14. "We are very concerned about what is happening," said Maria Grazia Panella, the owner of a popular bakery on Merulana. She said business has already dropped by at least 25% compared with the same period last year, adding that the mayor is ignoring merchants' concerns. Closing the Via dei Fori Imperiali was the idea of Rome's new mayor, Ignazio Marino, who says it is necessary to protect the environment and the historic structures in ancient Rome, including the Colosseum with is almost 2,000 years old. Marino has claimed that 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. However, closing the street has meant more traffic and parking snarls on other roadways in the area. At a gas station near the intersection of Via Cavour and the closed street, a pump attendant said that changing traffic patterns is bad for business. No one came for gas on the street Monday morning, he said. "If this continues, I will go bankrupt". In fact, Marino - whose program 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.

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