Jerom Theunissen Photography


August 19-22

City in Context

Milan is located in the western part of the Lombardy region, in the northern part of Italy. It is the second most populous Italian city after Rome, with about 1.35 million inhabitants and 3.2 million considering the greater Milan Metropolitan Area. Milan is known as the main industrial, commercial and financial center of Italy, and attracts over 850,000 commuters every day and 270,000 going in the opposite direction. In 2014, an average of 5.6 million trips per day, were made, 56% of which are in Milan and 44% are exchange trips between Milan and its surroundings. In the city, 57% of trips are made by public transport, 30% by car, 6% by bike, and 7% by two-wheeled scooter (read: Italian Vespas!). The situation is more car dominant outside the city: 58% travel by this mode while 37% take public transport. Biking and scooter trips account for 1% and 4%, respectively.

Milan internal public transport system includes metro, suburban railway, tram and bus networks.

Besides the public transport system, the city also provides the possibility to use taxi, car and bike sharing. The Metro network consists of four lines (M1, M2, M3, M5) and over 100 stations. The network is still under development, with the new M4 line being completed in 2018 . The M5 was recently extended with 10 new stations in 2015. Surface transportation includes 18 lines for urban trams and 133 bus routes, including 29 suburban routes and 4 trolleybus lines. For longer distances, 10 suburban railway lines connect Milan to its greater hinterland.

Milan’s Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP)

European cities, faced by deteriorating air quality, congested roads, or those with green-minded leadership, have embarked upon practices to create people friendly urban mobility (walking, cycling and public transport). The European Union has enabled and encouraged planning, development, and implementation of sustainable urban mobility through its SUMP initiative. The strategies in a SUMP include policies and projects to push motor vehicle drivers away from using personal vehicles in city centers and making public transport and active transport more attractive.

Milan began the process of developing its own SUMP in 2013, and has been finalized in 2015. The plan aims to reshape Milan’s overall mobility until 2025, redefining the boundaries of the metropolitan city and serving large suburban areas. One of the main goals from the outset of the process was to increase involvement and political engagement across stakeholders, including local authorities m citizens and a Scientific Committee to facilitate an open discussion. This involved an information campaign to inform the public about the SUMP process, thematic meetings with stakeholders, and publication of presentations, meeting minutes, and reports on AMAT’s website (Milan's municipal mobility agency).

The SUMP came down to four thematic areas:

  • Sustainable mobility - ensure high accessibility to walking, cycling, and public transport, reduce dependency on private vehicles and redistribute space in favor of active mobility.
  • Equity, security, and social cohesion - Reduce road accidents and barries in access to mobility services, and reduce exposure to noise and air pollutants.
  • Environmental quality - reduce air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Innovation and economic efficiency - ensure economic sustainability of the mobility system and incorporate environmental, social and health costs into cost-benefit analyses.

The main problems of Milan’s mobility system revolve around the increase in private transport demand. This is largely due to the functional differences between the city and suburbs in the realm of mobility. As such, the SUMP has sought to reduce the number of private cars in the outskirts and metropolitan region by increasing public transport coverage in these areas. Extension of the Filo-Bus circular line in the city center and of Bus Rapid Transit into the suburbs will improve bus access, while intermodality will be accentuated by the reorganization of transit hubs and introducing park and ride facilities. Improvements in the city center include tram priority lanes and extensions or new underground metro lines (M4, M5, and M1). For active mobility, more cycling areas and 30 km/h zones will improve safety for these underrepresented modes in Milan. Enforcement and pricing policies aim to reduce traffic in the city center via congestion charges and smart parking. In this manner, Milan hopes to achieve a more optimal balance between efficient mobility, quality of life, and environmental and health protection for its citizens and visitors.

This interview with Maria Berrini, the CEO of AMAT srl, the Milano Municipal Agency for Mobility, Enviroment and Territory, describes the SUMP and associated initiatives.

Area C - Congestion Charge

Milan Municipality launched several measures to fight air pollution and traffic congestion including two road price schemes applied to the historical center. The first was launched in 2008 and was called “Ecopass.” The second and current scheme, “Area C”, was launched in 2012, combining a Congestion Charge scheme with the banning of the most polluting vehicles to improve quality of life for those who live, work, study and visit the city. The actual area corresponds to 4.5% (8.2 square km) of the whole territory of the Municipality of Milan. The restricted traffic zone is located in the neighborhood of Cerchia Bastioni (hence the name “C”) and is controlled with 43 access points monitored by camera. The charge is collected on weekdays from 7:30 AM until 7:30 PM, with a fee of 5 EUR per day.

Since its inception, the scheme has been a massive success, both in terms of mobility and environmental benefits. Mobility was improved via a 29.2% reduction in traffic, 26% less road accidents, and 10% more parking spaces available for local residents. The speed of buses and trams increased about 6% and 4% during the evening peak hour. In terms of environmental benefits, 49% less polluting vehicles entered the city center, and decreases in pollutants (18% total PM10, 45% ammonia, 18% NOx, and 35% carbon dioxide). All the incomes from Area C have been reinvested in public transport and sustainable mobility, including frequency improvements and expansion of the public bike-sharing system. There are plans to develop infrastructure of electronic gates around the municipal boundary of Milan, significantly increasing the monitoring area and creating a Milan Low Emission Zone (LEZ). The expanded system will be set for the control and management of the most heavy vehicles and the ones used for the transport of dangerous goods. In a second phase it will be targeted to manage also tourist buses and other large vehicles and to disincentive the most polluting vehicles, inspired by experiences such as Greater London LEZ.

Railways for Regeneration - Rubattino-Lambrate

Urban redevelopment in the city of Milan is facing spatial constraints. Continued growth at the periphery is possible but not sustainable, making trip times longer. Over the past twenty years, more people have suggested that Milan’s numerous rail yards offer potential for redevelopment, given their relative large space requirements. Over the last fifty years, this theme has recurred in many of the cities I have visited, including in Paris, London, and Madrid. Over time, rail yards were situated in suburban areas of these cities, where factories and other manufacturing took place. As cities lost more of their factories, these areas were resized, or they even lost their function, while cities grew and absorbed rail yards in the city. In the case of Milan, Italian railways have ensured that the rail yards remain unchanged until the present day. Yet, the massive potential of their reuse represents the last available large open area inside the historical city center, making them absolutely important for the future development of the city in the next century. The rail yards of Milan can be considered common available areas, and they are under the law provided by the P.G.T. of the municipality of Milan. The agreement that sets guidelines for development around rail yards is known as the "Accordo di Programma," which is agreed upon by the particular district of Milan and the FS Sistemi Urbani, an authority for the real estate development of the railways. Here are some projects that are proposed around Milan to reinvigorate the rail yards.

One project advanced by researchers from the School of Architecture, Urban Planning, and Construction Engineering at Politecnico di Milano focused on the present situation of the area surrounding the rail yards at Città Studi and Rubattino-Lambrate. In their engagement with local stakeholders, they found that the district does not satisfy the need of the citizens. The city currently offers 17.4 sqm/inhabitant, however the citizens perceive that they only have access to 9.4 sqm/inhabitant. Even worse is the perception of the citizens of Rubattino-Labrate, which has a value of 6.9 sqm/inhabitant even if the area potentially could offer 34.2 sqm/inhabitant. These numbers show that the railway is an obstacle to the development of the city and has a negative effect on the overall perception of Rubattino-Lambrate area. The same Rubattino district during his process of regeneration, found itself to be isolated from the rest of the city due to the insuperable physical limit of the railway.

A view of the proposed residential co-housing blocks located near the rail yard.

Thanks to the data collected and discussions with local citizens, the researchers suggested an urban redevelopment project that could efficiently balance the requirements and requests of stakeholders and the citizenry. The master plan features the presence of some simple elements, including squares, paths, playgrounds, permeable spaces, co-housing, a university hub, and a cultural center. Accompanying the master plan were analytic calculations and a timeline of the proposed interventions and of their sustainability. By including calculations, the project was able to demonstrate its practicability in respect to present zoning laws and economic feasibility. A timeline was included so that stakeholders could aim for the project to built reliably and efficiently. Many other proposals for the district have suffered from stalled execution of plans, and the timeline can keep developers accountable for delivery of this vital urban project.

Bosco Verticale - Milan’s Vertical Forest

Milan is home to one of the world’s most innovative buildings to date. The Bosco Verticale development supports an intensive living green facade, with complex systems that include the structural support, maintenance, and irrigation of plant life and the people that reside within the building. The plants are selected especially to provide several environmental and microclimate benefits, including dust absorption, pollution reduction, carbon sequestering, air temperature stabilization, and air humidity increase resulting from evapotranspiration. Stefano Boeri, the architect of the Bosco Verticale, said that the project “represents a different idea of sustainability” by facilitating some 90 different plant species on the facade of the building.

The Bosco Verticale is part of the larger Porta Nuova project, which is an extensive urban redevelopment project covering thirty-four hectacres of land and twenty new towers in the between 2005 and 2015. This involved an investment of approximately 2 billion euros ($2.51 billion) to create a mixed-use business, residential, and commercial district. The area is extremely acessible by various modes of transport. Porto Nuova is near two of Milan’s largest rail stations, Milano Centrale and Porto Garibaldi. By public transport, metro lines M2 and M5 (and M4 once construction is complete) and several tram and bus lines make the new development some of the best served areas in the city.

I visited the project to see Milan’s latest urban development and how public space was interwoven between new residential and office towers. See some pictures below, or read this excellent article detailing the project in the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat Journal.

Parting Thoughts

My visit to Milan left me hopeful for the future, especially given that motorization rates are quite high in the city (550 cars/1000 residents). Compared to Rome, I found that Milan does better in public transport, with more metro lines, tram lines and extensive bus services. The “Area C” congestion charge makes the inner city calmer than Rome, and the widespread proliferation of urban greenery made the city feel more livable. My Italian contacts in Venice urged me to visit Milan to see what a good example of Italian mobility planning was like, and they were so right! I couldn’t help but think more about how American cities of similar size could benefit from the steps Milan has taken over the years to shape more sustainable mobility in this vibrant Italian city.

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