Milan, Italy banning cars this week

As it has needed to do several times this fall and winter, the city of Milan has banned cars and motorcycles from the city center for the first three days of this week because of excessive air pollution. Milan is in a valley, so certain weather patterns get congested there, and the atypical combination of no rain for more than seven weeks and little wind has pushed pollution beyond EU limits for more than 31 of the past 50 days. From 10 am to 4 pm until Wednesday, December 30, the city center is a no-go zone for most motorized transport. Milan has been using this tactic since 2005.

Rome is in the same situation, the Italian capital banning most vehicles in the city's green zone for nine hours on Monday and again Tuesday this week based on license plate number. The unusual weather situation has there led to "high concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide." According to the Italian news agency ANSA, however, "hybrids, methane-powered, LPG or Euro 6 cars and Euro 2 scooters" are considered low-pollution vehicles and are exempt from the ban.

Rome has also put limits on central heating, decreeing indoor home and office temperatures cannot exceed 18 C (64.4 F). The village of San Vitalino, about 30 minutes from Naples, banned the use of wood-fired ovens most commonly used to make pizza.

With no rain in the forecast until January, those cities and others are trying to get people to embrace public transportation. Milan has made single-ticket rides valid for an entire day, Rome has done the same during the traffic abatement days, and Turin - about two hours' drive from Milan - offered two free days of public transport. With Milan cited as being among the worst European cities for pollution, and the European Environment Agency noting Italy as "among the most affected by air pollution," the mayor of Milan has asked other cities in the region to help tackle the problem. At least one scientific observer says it won't be enough, cautioning, "Italy needs serious infrastructural investments to enhance greener transportation and greenhouse emissions."

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