Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Milan's Effort to Tame Traffic Runs into Special Interests ; Italy's Maze of Laws Helps Stall Attempt to Reduce Congestion and Pollution

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Milan's Effort to Tame Traffic Runs into Special Interests ; Italy's Maze of Laws Helps Stall Attempt to Reduce Congestion and Pollution

Article excerpt

In Italy, "there is always a 'higher petition' that annuls the preceding one that in turn could be contradicted by another ruling, destined in any case to be surpassed," a columnist wrote.

It would seem to go without saying that a measure aimed at reducing traffic in the center of a city would hurt the business of a parking garage there. It would not even seem to be a matter of dispute, much less a court case.

Yet in Italy, where obstructionism has been raised to a fine art, few were surprised when an administrative court, the Council of State, upheld a parking garage's right to appeal and Milan's six- month experiment with a fee that was designed to reduce traffic congestion hit a brick wall.

There are nine million cases -- nearly two-thirds of them civil cases -- limping through Italian courts, which the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice cites as among the most backlogged in Europe. Critics bemoan the plethora of laws that can be employed on behalf of a vast array of special interests.

"There is always a 'higher petition' that annuls the preceding one that in turn could be contradicted by another ruling, destined in any case to be surpassed," Pierluigi Battista, a columnist with Corriere della Sera, a Milan daily, wrote of the parking lot case. "It's an infinite game that strangles all decisions in Italy, mortifies every choice, deprives of meaning every option in the fetters of eternal postponement. Who will invest in Italy, among the tangle of commas and legal motions that feed the sense of paralysis, make palpable the feeling that in Italy everything is impossible?"

The ruling, which eliminated a charge of EUR 5, or about $6, to drive into the city's core, was embraced by many businesses in the affected area. Environmental groups and cycling lobbies reacted angrily, saying that the ruling suspended what had been a strong effort to improve the air quality and livability of one of the most traffic-clogged and polluted cities in Europe. Milan had been one of a handful of cities, including London and Oslo, to have adopted such a program.

The Municipal Council, which has put taming the city's snarling traffic high on its agenda, cast the debate on a loftier level, questioning whether the financial interest of one should prevail over the interests of the community.

"Today we register with respect, but also concern, that the loss suffered by a private parking lot is at issue in a court of law and that this has blocked a measure that benefits all Milanese residents," Pierfrancesco Maran, the council member responsible for traffic planning, said in a statement on July 25, the day the court issued its decision.

Traffic is Public Enemy No. 1 in Milan, where it is estimated that 730,000 vehicles, including 460,000 driven by people who live outside the city, circulate each day, jamming its historic streets and slowing public transportation. …

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