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Roman Tempers Rising Over Traffic, Smog

November 14, 1986

ROME (AP) _ With Roman tempers rising as fast as air pollution levels, fed-up Eternal City dwellers are putting the heat on officials to finally do something about their infamous traffic problem.

But finding a solution appears just about as difficult driving around Capitoline Hill, the site of Rome’s city hall, at rush hour.

Some have turned to drastic measures in recent days to illustrate the problem caused by the uncontrollable movement of vehicles and helter-skelter parking.

Last week, the white-gloved traffic police donned surgeon’s masks to protest the health hazard they face directing the endless stream of cars.

″We traffic police are perhaps more exposed, but everybody who works in the center runs the same risk to their health,″ said Marco Ciaffi, 30, who directs traffic at the busy Piazza Venezia.

As part of their demonstration, the white-masked officers set up pollution monitors at key intersections which showed that at rush hour, carbon monoxide levels reach 500 parts per 1 million in downtown Rome, eight times the level considered hazardous to health.

On Tuesday, a Rome magistrate threatened to call out the ″carabinieri″, or para-military police, to halt cars trying to get into the historic center if the city government didn’t come up with a pollution reduction plan by Saturday. Prefect Gianfranco Amendola later withdrew his warning.

Several unions have named Nov. 28 ″traffic-free day,″ asking Romans to leave their cars at home in an experiment to see how well the city can operate using public transportation unhindered by private car traffic.

Perennial calls for the closure to traffic of the city center, where soot and exhaust coat Baroque church facades, medieval houses and Roman ruins, have been increasing. So far they have not been taken up by the five-party coalition that governs the city.

Led by Christian Democrat Mayor Nicola Signorello, city officials say that blocking off the center will only worsen the problem in Rome’s vast outskirts, where traffic is as congested as it is downtown.

Signorello has said that experts are working on the problem, focusing instead on the creation of more pedestrian islands, pay parking lots and one- way main thoroughfares. However, no date has been set for submitting such a plan.

Measures to deal with traffic-related problems have been going in an out of effect for years, beginning in 1955 with traffic police traveling with sound meters in an anti-noise pollution campaign.

During Rome’s ″Dolce Vita″ period, the then-trendy Via Veneto was blocked to night traffic for a brief period.

The central Piazza Navona has remained closed off to traffic since 1968 and the Spanish Steps area since 1983.

Two Rome newspapers, Il Messaggero and La Repubblica, published results of a study by the OCDE, a Paris-based organization promoting economic and social development, saying that Rome was the only European capital with deteriorating air quality.

Francesco De Lorenzo, who heads the country’s Environment Ministry, has said the government will step in with a decree setting severe limits on air pollution.

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