Council meets shopkeepers over pedestrian-Forum complaints

Business associations claim turnover has tanked 40-60%

Council meets shopkeepers over pedestrian-Forum complaints

Rome, September 5 - Rome's transport and commerce councillors meet local business associations on Thursday to address shopkeeper complaints following the closure to private vehicles of an stretch of road flanking the Colosseum and running by the Imperial and Roman Forum ruins. Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino last month launched the first stage of pedestrianizing and transforming the Fascist-era stretch of road from a downtown traffic artery to a traveller and culture hub. Only trams, emergency vehicles and taxis have been permitted since the second weekend of August. "A number (of businesses) have already closed. Others have transferred, and others are on the verge of doing so. Turnover has fallen 40-60% on this period last year," complained Giuseppe Roscioli of the Confcommercio retail association. "We have found that the businesses of the area adjacent to the Forum are in great difficulty," said Valter Giammaria, the president of the Rome branch of the Confesercenti business association. "If shopkeepers close, the area will become extremely degraded: just traffic lanes," claimed Giammaria, adding that the business associations want a say in how the road transformation progresses. "We are not categorically against semi-pedestrianization". Visits to the Colosseum and other top sites of ancient Rome rose by almost 13% following the partial road closure, which coincided with the national Ferragosto holiday, compared with the same time last year, according to statistics released by the Superintendence of Archaeological Heritage. It wasn't clear if the mayor's decision to close more of the area around the Colosseum to automobile traffic, creating a larger pedestrian space, made the difference or whether it was unusually mild August temperatures or the lingering recession forcing more Romans and Italians to spend their holidays closer to home. But the Rome mayor, who was elected in June, has said that the road in question will eventually become the exclusive domain of pedestrians, cyclists and government vehicles. "Maybe a section will remain, perhaps for pedestrians and bicycles, maybe a tram, maybe we'll keep maps of the Roman Empire there. We'll wait and see what the final result is," said the mayor in a recent interview with the Huffington Post. The move has drawn loud complaints from shopkeepers and businesses, but surveys say surrounding residents are 80% in favor of the vehicle ban, which also aims to reduce smog in the area that has created a thick layer of soot on the Colosseum's exterior. In addition to improving the quality of life for Romans, Marino says the change will also make the 2,000-year-old monument and the surrounding area more tourist-friendly. "I think we can double the number of tourists who come. We're shooting for over 20 million per year," Marino said.

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