My wife and I recently returned from a motoring holiday in Italy. We visited Verona, Mantua, Parma, Modena, Bologna, Ravenna, Ferrara, and Vicenza. The Italians love their cars almost as much as their women, yet we were intrigued to discover that last year, in the land of Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Fiat, more bicycles were purchased than cars.
In most cities inner city areas are for the use of pedestrians and cyclists. Buses, taxis, and cars are only allowed with a permit. Cobbles help to emphasise the need for low speeds. When checking into hotels it was necessary to register our hire car to ensure that we were not fined whenever we entered a traffic-controlled zone. Streets have been reclaimed. Residents with a noticeable mature age profile cycle or walk to the shops and catch up on gossip over a coffee. Few feel the need to wear helmets because there is little danger from cars.
Our hotel in Bologna rented its own bicycles. There were leaflets from bicycle hire companies offering to bring bikes to any hotel. When approaching Ferrara road signs on the outside of the city proclaimed it to be a 'city for cyclists'. In Ravenna we were advised to rent a bicycle from the railway station if we wished to see all eight of the UNESCO world heritage sites. In Vicenza the recommended way to visit Palladio's Villa was along the bicycle track.
UK engineered Range Rovers, Jaguars and Mini's are very fashionable, as are Brooks Saddles - made in Smethwick but now Italian controlled. We did not see any British made bicycles; and yet Birmingham used to employ tens of thousands of people manufacturing bicycles, and in the twentieth century exported more bicycles than any other city in the world. Now the most expensive cycle shop in Birmingham is Italian - Bicicielo in Temple Street. A top of the range bike is on sale for £15,000.
At a BCC Scrutiny Meeting I attended in 2012 Councillor Des Hughes from Kingstanding remarked 'You have to remember this is a motoring city".
The Italians seem to have a more nuanced approach.