But persuading the locals has been a bumpy ride. Bologna is the capital of a region that is home to the makers of some of the fastest and most glamorous cars in the world, including Ferrari, Lamborghini and Pagani.
There have been protests, both on the streets and on social media (memes and all), and a petition to hold a referendum on the new speed limit has accumulated just over 53,000 signatures.
The petition was begun by Guendalina Furini, a student at the University of Bologna who was concerned that her daily 40-kilometre commute into the city would increase substantially. She said that the new limit was “difficult to maintain” and would eventually deter people from visiting Bologna because the risk of getting a ticket was so high.
“The city risks losing out,” she said.
The discontent has been a windfall for the city’s centre-right opposition, which has jumped on the protests ahead of European Union elections in June, and on Monday called for a referendum on the limit.
The opposition’s jibes have been amplified by the Italian transport minister, Matteo Salvini, leader of the hard-right League party, who has called the Bologna limit “senseless”. Last week, Salvini signed a directive that challenged a city’s right to impose a blanket limit of 30km/h, arguing, among other things, that restrictions should be decided on a street-by-street basis. Legal experts have been debating the weight that the directive could have on a city’s decisions, and the dispute could play out in the courts.
Bologna City Hall responded to the directive by noting in a statement that its speed limits were in line with existing national legislation. “Our priority is road safety and people’s quality of life,” the statement said.
Lepore noted during the interview that the new limit affected only 70 per cent of the city, with the remaining roads retaining limits of 50km/h or 70km/h. He said the city was open to “corrections” on the speed limit, but not before a period of monitoring.
During the first two weeks, only 25 speeding tickets had been issued, according to City Hall. In this phase, “we’re more about informing rather than giving fines,” Lepore said.
In 2021, Olbia, in Sardinia, became the first Italian city to set a broad limit of 30km/h. There, too, the initial reactions were harsh, recalled the mayor, Settimo Nizzi.
“But it’s right for a mayor to think of the quality of life of his citizens,” Nizzi said. For months, officials worked alongside residents to extol the benefits of a more walkable, bike-friendly city, “to get them used to this new style of living,” he added.
Walking “is so much better for you,” Nizzi noted, and now people in Olbia “are happier”.
There are indications that Bologna’s new limit is already having an impact. According to the city, traffic accidents were down 21 per cent in the first two weeks of the new limit’s coming into force, compared with the same period last year, which included a fatality. None of the accidents this year have been deadly, according to a city statement issued last week.
Lepore said he was certain that the positive results of his measure would soon become apparent.
“It won’t take long for people to understand that it was the right choice,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.