We do this work because we truly believe in the revolutionary potential of the bicycle for the future of our cities. But more generally, we believe in the freedom of people to choose how they move and to be put in the condition to do so.

Some time ago, on a day with uncertain weather, I decided to walk from Clorofilla’s office to the city library, where I go to work on tasks that require more concentration. It was a walk of almost five kilometers, but as I often think: why is it considered normal to find time for exercise, while taking more time to move around and simultaneously engage in physical activity seems like a waste of time?

Clorofilla is located in an industrial area not far from the Via Emilia, the main traffic artery of the Romagna hinterland after the highway (although in many stretches it remains the same as it was fifty years ago). Covering the 300 meters that separate the industrial area from the start of the pedestrian-cycling path that leads into the city was perhaps the most dangerous thing I’ve done in recent years, and I don’t live a particularly sedentary life. The connecting road is completely devoid of a shoulder. Of course, there’s no sidewalk to speak of.

It would be wise to put up a sign that reads: “No Walking.” It’s a road I often travel by bike, and even on two wheels it is decidedly dangerous. The asphalt is in poor condition, the roadway narrow, and traffic intense. On foot, however, it becomes truly terrible.

On the Via Emilia, a minimal space between the roadway and the houses allows me to walk more easily, though I must watch out for cars pulling over at high speeds to stop at the nearest bar.

Finally, I reach the pedestrian-cycling path, well-constructed, separated from traffic by a safety barrier, wide enough to allow me to walk without problems even when I cross bikes. From the outskirts of the city, it extends to the city walls, allowing me to walk peacefully to my destination while listening to some music and making a few phone calls.

A frame of the mentioned road: cycling is dangerous, but walking looks impossible

As I walk, I reflect on what I will try to explain here. Walking, even before bicycling, should be the most natural thing in the world. Walking is the only form of movement truly accessible to everyone, or to all those fortunate enough to be able to use their legs. Any other form of transport involves a cost, direct or indirect. This cost, depending on the means one can afford, creates the road hierarchy.

Walking is thus a highly democratic form of movement, as well as a civil, beneficial act with zero impact, contributing to the health of both the environment and people. It should be easy, or at least allowed.
However, our cities, and perhaps even more so our suburbs, have been developing around motor vehicles for nearly seventy years now. To the point that in some places, it is virtually impossible to walk.

The road I walked for a few hundred meters reaches the first inhabited area a couple of kilometers from the industrial zone, and for someone who wants to walk it, it is essentially off-limits. The white line at the edge of the roadway is just a few centimeters from the slope leading to the fields below on one side and from the barriers of private properties on the other. There is literally no space to walk.

Now, in a historical moment when individual freedom seems to have become the most precious asset for people, even at the expense, unfortunately, of civic sense and coexistence, it amazes me that no one is scandalized by the fact that we are essentially forced to pay to move.

Public transportation would already be a luxury, but in many areas, we have to pay much more than a bus ticket to buy a vehicle and continue to pay to maintain it. An enormous cost that no one complains about.

If there were no alternative, I could understand. Having a roof over one’s head, for example, is rather fundamental to our survival. But having a car or a scooter is not. We can move in other ways. Yet, in fact, it is not so.

Reversing the development trend of a society that has built its dynamics and wealth on motor vehicles is not easy. Perhaps it is not even possible. To be clear, I do not want to demonize motor vehicles, which have represented and still represent freedom for all those who need to travel long distances and for all of us who are now accustomed to jumping into the car ten times a day for whatever we need.

I am not advocating a return to the four-hour walk to and from school my grandparents told me about. But be careful, not everyone can afford their own vehicle. And even for these people, or for those who simply want to move differently, it should be allowed.

Sometimes, we read about a pedestrian being hit on roads where walking is uncommon. The comments on social media are appalling, as if it were not permissible to think of walking anywhere (except on the highway, of course). I am not claiming the urgency to have pedestrian-cycling paths running parallel to all roads that can be traveled by other means (although this is precisely what is discussed in the newly born European Cycling Declaration).

But I reflect on the absurdity of those who claim their right to drive at certain speeds and therefore oppose 30 km/h speed limits in cities or speed cameras, without realizing that they are claiming the right to remain a slave to a certain mode of transportation.

It increasingly happens that we confuse defending our beliefs, choices, and habits with defending a supposed freedom. But there is no freedom that is reserved for a few. Being free to speed down the road in your car is not freedom. Freedom and rights are such only if they are for everyone. The choices one makes once such freedoms are guaranteed concern, indeed, the private sphere.

So let’s be careful about the freedoms we defend and those that, without even realizing it, have already been taken from us long ago. During the Covid times, the staunch defenders of personal freedom used the example of the frog that dies slowly in the pot to explain the situation we were in. Too bad that the poor frog is troubled only when the freedom at stake is not everyone’s (to move, to express oneself, to vote, to protest) but our personal habits and privileges.