Mobility – Rome’s expert Simone Porcacchia tells us how cities can achieve it
Simone Porcacchia is an accomplished engineer of operations and management, who is best known for his expertise in maintenance engineering for energy companies. He is also a proud father of two children, Giulio and Matilde. Over the years, Simone has gained extensive experience working in high-level international environments, even in challenging contexts such as Iraq and Nigeria. Simone’s career took a significant turn in 2016 when he was given the honor of supporting Rome administration as staff of the Councillor for mobility and transport. He continued to serve in this role until 2019, after which he became involved in infrastructure development until 2021. These experiences gave him the opportunity to hone his skills in project management, which he now puts to good use as a project manager for GO-Mobility s.r.l.
The European Commission Strategic Plan 2020-2024 defines transport as key to the quality of our lives, the resilience and competitiveness of our economies, and the delivery of freedom for people, services, and goods to move unhindered within the EU. At the same time, digitalization, automation, the emergence of shared collaborative economies, innovative mobility platforms, as well as sustainable alternative fuels, are all disruptive trends challenging the current mobility and transport landscape while offering great possibilities for its enhancement. In the same strategic plan, transport is defined as a central part of the European Green Deal. Given your experience at the City of Rome in the department of infrastructure, development, and mobility, how would you describe European cities nowadays in terms of mobility? How does it impact the quality of citizens’ lives? Are we satisfied, and how much? Maybe you have some statistics to share across Europe or Italy?
From the idea of developing the Trans-European Networks (Ten-T), Europe has placed the topic of “Mobility” at the center and focal point of its political agenda. Every program and regulation, from the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 that established the birth of the European Union to the reform of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007 and up to the present day with the Recovery and Resilience Plans following the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, has embodied the philosophy of “Mobility” as the right and need to move people and goods, overcoming the mere concept of “transport.”
The worldwide health crisis has represented an accelerator in focusing on the importance of internal and external movements of people and goods from all nations. Europe and all its member states have a great need for movement; they understand the need to develop mobility as a whole transport system that should be flexible, multifaceted, and interconnected – in just one word: resilient. Mobility is closely linked to environmental and energy sustainability issues.
An interconnected mobility system allows us to meet the personal need for movement and, at the same time, overcome the aberrant future, no longer sustainable, based on cars that dominated the post-World War II period. Each member state and Europe itself today is questioning what the proper development is. For years, we have tried to overcome traffic by building more roads, but it hasn’t worked because adding lanes just creates more demand, and traffic increases.
In Rome, from 2016 to 2021, we tried to follow an agenda that adopted European directives to try to transform the “car-centric” city that is the current urbanization model of the Italian capital. In particular, we tried to improve the disastrous numbers of road safety. Italy, in terms of mobility, is not an advanced country: cities are built for cars, and people are so stuck in the concept that the only way of moving is by car, that they are blind to the value of interconnected, sustainable, and public mobility.
The challenges of the future are the redesign of roads to increase safety parameters and make the use of the private car unfavorable in order to increase modal shift parameters towards higher shares of public transport, active mobility, and shared mobility.
In Rome, in five years, we have redesigned important road axes, created new bus lanes to increase public transport’s commercial speed, built a system of intelligent traffic lights to give priority to public transport services, a cooperative intelligent transport system as well as the info-mobility systems in order to rationalize and reorganize both public and private transport systems. We have built new bike lanes and bicycle paths to connect suburbs to the city center and given birth to the first free-flow scheme of bike-sharing service in Rome, extended to cover the entire city with a bicycle hire point at all train stations. We have defined new market rules to encourage sharing mobility, with economic incentives to favor the purchase of electric vehicles. We bought more than 900 new buses, worked to help and strengthen the public transport company, but it was not enough. We always found obstacles, rejection, and anger from a system that is still too tied to the use of the private car to go anywhere and the crazy logic of the need to park everywhere freely. Unfortunately, we are still too far from the great “street-democracies” of northern Europe, but we don’t lose heart; we always try to improve the place where we live.
Now, in the present, I’m a mobility consultant, and I try to support local authorities in creating specific opportunities around specific contexts. The data regarding the movements of people and goods are important, and so are the sources and methods of analysis. That’s why as a society, we launched the project DataMobility, a targeted mission to improve the culture of data by specializing in the integration of new and traditional sources of data (such as big data coming from car black boxes, phones or applications) and data visualization (dashboards, interactive infographics), sharing best practices and experimentations focused on data-driven policies and data-literacy, under the hashtag: #BreakthroughData.
The transformation of our cities requires doing things differently, both for local governments and citizens. What will local governments need to do differently in the future? Will a certain level of comfort be compromised in the everyday life of citizens when we consider the near future of life in urban areas?
Education, information, and culture are important for all ages and social groups. Unfortunately, the last few decades have seen a cultural “road barbarism.” Culture must be restored to the basics, such as the concept of the street as a social space instead of a place exclusively for cars. Schools and television must educate people to respect and share the road. It is unthinkable that in 2023 it is still unsafe to ride a bicycle and foolish to think that using public transport or moving sustainably is for losers. Education must be at the top of our society.
Referring to Italy, the development of cities since the period of 1960, which we call the “economic boom period” according to the Marshall Plan, has led to urban plans that have revolutionized the structure of cities previously focused on urban trams and public transport. These urban plans destroyed the cities’ railway heritage and created spaces and roads for cars. The urban developments of new neighborhoods have placed the automobile at the center, forgetting that citizens need mobility, not just vehicles. We need to change this paradigm. We have lagged behind other EU states in this development, and regarding Rome, we really need to put sustainability and shared mobility at the center of the political agenda. It will take many years to create new conditions, but we have to start because we are obliged to do it for future generations. “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but we borrow it from our children.”
It won’t be easy; citizens will have to change their habits that result from a past vision that is no longer sustainable with the present. We need to invest in road safety; only then will it be possible to think about changing the modal shift. Today, we try to build cycle paths, but people do not use them because they are afraid. It is dangerous to ride a bicycle in Rome, so for their safety, they prefer to travel only on board a vehicle. We need to invest in safety in all maintenance activities and infrastructure. That’s the key.
Any transformation of a city requires infrastructure, funding, and regulations. Are any of these critical or obstacles for the progress of mobility today?
The European Union has put the topic of mobility at the center of its agenda. There are many financial and economic programs, and it’s up to every member state to make the best use of them. However, in this process, it’s important that every decision is supported by the participation of citizens’ associations and social committees. The process must be supported at the grassroots level to legitimize it and avoid it being seen as an imposition by local governments.
Without preventive participation regarding visions and strategies, and just creating new infrastructures with the hope that they will be used, we won’t get the desired results. It has to be based on an equal partnership; otherwise, it won’t work. The programs are there, the funding too, for example, the PNNR. There were missions dedicated to mobility, and we need to have the courage to make bold choices for a better future. Today, in the current situation, we may not understand it, but it will be a “gift” that we give to those who come after us.
Rome is not Amsterdam, but Amsterdam was Rome until 1970, with cars everywhere in photographs that today look like a horror movie. In 1973, the “Stop de Kindermoord” movement came to life in Amsterdam, which soon led Dutch cities to a model where people are freed from needing to use a car. After 50 years, even in New York, a radical change of thought is emerging, which once again starts from the people and contaminates the administration by asking for a radical transformation for a livable, peaceful, inclusive, and democratic urban space.
From May 2022, Spain is all at 30km/h by introducing a new rule in its “highway Code”: you can go at 30 km/h in all urban contexts where there is a sidewalk, at 20 km/h where there isn’t, and you can drive at 50 km/h only on roads with two or more lanes in each direction, and this provision concerns 70-80% of city streets. Hispanic administrations had to adapt all the road signs and implement this provision. They were helped by guidelines and the law, which now includes 32 real situations. It’s the future, and we can’t let it get away anymore.
How different is it for historic cities like Rome to undergo this transformation? What has been implemented so far as a good example that is still possible and achievable, thus inspirational for other historic cities?
Throughout history, several cities have been called the “Eternal City,” such as Jerusalem or Kyoto, but Rome is the first and only one that has held this title for over two millennia. Rome is a vibrant, welcoming, and cheerful city, livable in any season of the year, unlike many other cities. There are so many wonderful places to admire in Rome, such as the Colosseo, San Pietro, and Castel Sant’Angelo, not to mention the stupendous squares that make it even more fantastic. However, “Ab exiguis profecta initiis, eo crevit ut iam magnitudine laboret sua,” the story of a city that started from very modest beginnings and has grown so much that it is now oppressed by its own greatness. This is what Tito Livio, an ancient Roman historian who lived from 59 BC to 17 AD and authored “Ab urbe condita,” wrote about Rome over two thousand years ago.
The main problem that afflicts Rome is the construction of the subway, not so much regarding the underground lines but the construction of the outgoing stations because it is certain that it will interfere with the archaeological layer of the ancient historical city. You could be the best designer in the world, but it would be impossible to avoid these negative impacts. This translates into cost increases, project reviews, and variations during construction. It will be important and strategic to think about tram connection plans that existed before and represented the mobility system of Rome until 1950/60 before their total dismission. To provide an example, in 2019, we completed Rome’s Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) with a participatory bottom-up approach. It identified the most urgent actions, in line with safety, sustainability, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness suggested in the European guidelines. The Rome SUMP also foresees significant extension of tram and metro networks as well as the implementation of metro cable networks. We hope that those plans will be followed in order to have a new city that will be in line with the European view of smart connection while also considering the correct use of the important funding that the European Union put into the mobility strategies of EU cities.
“Rome is the capital of the world! In this place, the whole world’s history is linked up, and I believe I have been born a second time, to be truly resurrected, the day I stepped in Rome. Its beauties have lifted me up until their height,” said Johann Wolfgang Goethe during his Grand Tour in 1786.
In your current role, you help cities plan and transform into sustainable urban habitats. What good examples can you share? More importantly, in which segment of that transformation do city leadership (mayors) need help or partnerships in order to perform better and faster?
As a consultant supporting administrations, detached from the logic of political compromise, I am able to see everything with much more clarity. Data is a fundamental part of the solution, from the research of innovative data sources coming from new technologies, to new methods of analysis, and the ways in which we can organize, analyze, monitor data, and obtain valuable information from them to build tailored and effective policies.
Plans, programs, and all tasks must be part of a targeted, shared, and feasible strategy, setting precise targets and monitoring them with data, such as the share of traffic shifted from private cars to other modes. The goal is always the same: accessibility and inclusiveness for safer and more livable cities at the same time.
The challenges that mayors are called to face are many, and the aims are clear and reasonable, but achieving them is not easy. As consultants, we are called to support and translate the political guidelines into operational activities. But as a community, we must have the courage to persist in the implementation of the plans and choices agreed upon, because too often, every time a change of local government happens, we helplessly witness an upheaval of the previous works, leading to the review of the plans and projects started.
Mobility, as well as the environment, safety, and livability of cities, are strongly connected and are at the center of a system around which commerce, work, tourism, development and growth, happiness, and the willingness to live in one’s own city and own country revolve.
Since these policies are connected to the entire social development, my hope is that there will be a single great “program” promoted by everyone, regardless of different political views. A multilateral pact that identifies a unitary basis, shared, accepted, and signed by all, on which to build the different political programs according to the directions that each one wants to bring out differently, but with the same foundations, which must be the same for everyone, without distinction. An intelligent revolution for better management of administrative functions.
For this, we promise to always be active contributors!