Air Pollution Forces Italian Cities to Enact Serious Driving Restrictions

Unusually mild and dry weather in much of Italy has worsened air quality so much that city governments are acting to reduce emissions from one of the chief sources of air pollution by enacting odd-even license restrictions on driving.

3 minute read

December 29, 2015, 7:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


Following the example set by Madrid last month and Paris in March, Italian cities are looking to curb driving and incentivize transit usage as a means to cope with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

"An unusually long period of stable weather with little rain or wind has driven air pollution levels to record highs in Italy and prompted emergency measures in a number of cities," writes Gaia Pianigiani for The New York Times in Rome. “(H)igh concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide (NOx) continue, aggravated by the weather situation of high pressure and absence of wind,” the city government said.

But many argue that whatever the weather, Italy needs to get better control over the heavy traffic choking its cities and the emissions from home heating systems that are scarcely monitored by the authorities.

Pianigiani describes the driving restrictions and transit benefits that municipal governments will enact because of the high pollution levels. Air quality is not anticipated to improve because of the lingering high atmospheric pressure weather pattern.

  • In Milan, Italy's second largest city, "the city government’s decision on Wednesday (Dec. 23) to restrict traffic between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for three days next week made headlines and raised health concerns. [More on Milan's congestion cordon charge below.]
  • In Rome, the special commissioner who is acting as mayor said Thursday that car traffic in the city would once again be limited next Monday and Tuesday in the early morning and late afternoon, based on the last digits of license plate numbers, while single-ride tickets on the city’s transit system would become passes valid all day. 
  • In the northwestern city of Turin (pop. 911,823), public transportation was free for two days this month to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home.

As in other cities such as Delhi where diesel cars are singled-out because of their higher emissions, Milan's auto restrictions are confined to diesel cars.

Nicola Pirrone, director of the Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research at Italy’s National Research Council, described episodic measures such as "blocking traffic for one or two days" and odd-even license plate driving restrictions, as "merely palliative".

One example of a policy change would be to follow Madrid's example of charging more for polluting cars and allowing electric vehicles to park for free.

Arguably a more effective policy of reducing traffic and auto emissions was implemented in 2008 in the form of a congestion cordon charge. A revised version was lifted after only six months due to a judge's ruling on a lawsuit brought by a garage owner, described in an August 2012 post.

Eric Jaffe of CityLab writes that when the 2012 cordon charge was halted for eight weeks, the effect was immediate—traffic returned as soon as the charge was waived, "no lag period." The charge had reduced emissions "from 6 to 17 percent."

The editor of Eltis describes the the two pricing schemes applied to "AREA C" in Milan since 2008. Ironically, the early scheme, Ecopass, is described as a pollution charge.

As noted in earlier this month, keeping the focus on air quality presents an effective strategy to reduce driving, even if it be episodic-based, as Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris implemented last month.

Thursday, December 24, 2015 in The New York Times - Europe

Green rapid transit bus pulled into station in dedicated lane.

Indiana Once Again Considering Ban on Dedicated Transit Lanes

The proposed legislation would impact the construction of planned IndyGo Blue Line, the third phase of the city’s bus rapid transit system.

February 25, 2024 - Fox 59

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

View from shore of Sepulveda Basin water catchment basin with marsh plants along shore.

LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water

The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.

February 25, 2024 - Wired

Ice fishing tents surrounded by fence in Safe Outdoor Space for unhoused people in parking lot in Denver, Colorado.

An Affordable Housing Model for Indigenous Americans

Indigenous people make up a disproportionately high percentage of the unhoused population, but many programs designed to assist them don’t reach those most in need.

March 1 - High Country News

An electric bicycle is shown with the legs of a human who is riding the e-bike.

Oregon Bill Would Ban E-Bikes for Riders Under 16

State lawmakers seek to change Oregon e-bike laws following the death of a 15-year old last summer.

March 1 - Oregon Capital Chronical

Aerial view of canal cut into beach in Charlestow, Rhode Island with boats parked in sand.

Northeastern Waterways More Polluted After Wet Year

Intense rains washed more runoff into local bodies of water, while warmer temperatures contributed to the growth of an invasive bloom.

March 1 - University of Rhode Island

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.