Give me five for a better life

Once upon a time, aside from fashion, food and culture, Milan was famous for something less attractive. Its smog. But as if by magic, for only €5, this particular symbol of Milan, has started to fade away.

Milan can proudly say it’s one of the few European cities to have successfully implemented a road charging scheme. Area C was introduced in January 2012 and in two years has already produced extremely positive results proving that €5 is a small price to pay for healthier living.

And it’s thanks to Area C that Milan has just been awarded the 2014 Transport Achievement Award. The award is given annually by the International Transport Forum at the OECD, an intergovernmental organisation for the transport sector with 54 member countries.

Perhaps it was the arrival of strict EU policy in the early 2000’s which meant heavy fines for exceeding legal air pollution limits that spurred the city to clean up its act? Nevertheless, with the city preparing for the green themed Expo next year, one thing is certain; the host city itself has to set the standard.

Milan deserves the kudos from this international recognition. For a number of reasons over the years, our city cultivated the unwanted title of one of Europe’s most polluted cities. Out of 17 major European cities tested in 2011, it ranked second worst after Rome. Cursed with a combination of factors including its geographic position, its citizens’ above average dependence on fuel based vehicles and the congestion and subsequent toxic emissions from the traffic and old heating systems, Milan’s pollution status was unsurprising.

Obviously nothing could be done about the location, which is effectively within a basin surrounded by mountains which trap all the poisonous fumes to create the famous smog that sits like an unwelcome hat above our heads. But the other factors were man-made.

The introduction of green initiatives was a bit slow on the uptake. Milan introduced car free Sundays in 2007 followed by the launch of Ecopass in 2008. The Ecopass was a toll for motorists travelling within the 8.2km² area within the Cerchia Dei Bastioni bypass restricted traffic area (ZTL).The fee charged was calculated based on the vehicle’s emissions.

Then following unsatisfactory results, Ecopass was remodeled to focus more on pollution and congestion reduction and that’s where Area C took over in 2012. The new scheme covers a larger area and requires payment from more vehicles compared to its predecessor. All vehicles except mopeds, motorcycles, electric cars, vehicles for disabled people and some other vehicle categories must pay the €5 daily charge.

In addition to congestion charging, the city has also “struck green” in other areas. By discouraging road use, improvements have also been made to public transport. With increased speed and frequency on all means of transport, the Milanese are happier about leaving the car at home.

And that’s not all, some of you may have noticed the area surrounding the Sforza Castle has just been closed off, not only to reduce traffic and further improve our air quality, but to create a pleasant traffic free, pedestrian zone.

These are big projects but other smaller scale initiatives are also contributing to the improvements in air quality. Car sharing is on the rise with a healthy choice of alternatives from the ATM’s GuidaMi to Eni’s Enjoy as well as E-vai electric option.


Let’s not forget the BikeMi bicycle sharing system and the ever growing network of cycle lanes. All these proposals have helped us and hopefully will continue to encourage us to leave our four wheeled pollution belchers at home and opt for something that will benefit the environment as well as our health.

In only a few years, this combination of initiatives, both big and small have paid off. As well as reduced congestion – vehicle accesses to Area C has fallen by 28%, the roads are also safer – the number of road crashes with injuries has decreased by 26.3%. Most importantly, emissions have also gone down: Particulate Matter (PM10) by 10% and CO2 by 35%.

These fantastic results reinforce that Milan really deserves their recent prize. With the entire world looking to Italy and Milan for the upcoming Expo, we are proving ourselves as influential innovators in the global eco-friendly crusade.

In fact, Italy’s proposal for its Expo pavilion is a building covered in a peculiar protective lattice-style structure made from state of the art “ Biodynamic” cement, developed by the Italcementi Group. In direct sunlight, the active principle contained in the material “captures” certain pollutants present in the air and converts them into inert salts, helping to purify the atmosphere from smog. So maybe sometime in the near future, Milan really can dream of being completely smog free! Nice one, give me five Milan!

Samantha Candeggi

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