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Cruising the cobblestones

Free bicycles enter the crowded Roman roads.

A cyclist makes her way through unpredictable traffic on Via del Corso in Rome’s historic center. The city inaugurated its bike-sharing program last summer but hasn’t yet provided bike lanes. (Fulvio Paolocci/GlobalPost)

ROME — In the busy streets of Rome, most drivers dodge at least one accident a day. A constant rush hour pulses through ancient neighborhoods connected by streets barely wide enough for a single car.

Recently the city has thrown cyclists into the mix with its first bike-sharing program, an idea embraced by many cities in recent years, from Paris to Washington, D.C.

Last June, Rome placed 250 bikes around 19 popular locations, including the Pantheon and the Parliament building, and throughout the historic center — a low-traffic zone of more than 3 square miles and the most pedestrian-friendly area of the city.

“Rome is a very difficult city,” said Antonio Musso, director of the Transportation Engineering Programme at La Sapienza University in Rome. “The city’s structural limits and restricted access make it difficult for private vehicles to move around.”

Bike-sharing is new to Rome, but not to Italy. Dozens of smaller towns have successfully implemented bike-sharing programs thanks to the traditional popularity of cycling in this country. Milan also has a program, but faces similar safety challenges:

Rome faces even more challenges than Milan in promoting cycling on its streets.

“Rome doesn’t have the same affection to biking like other cities have, especially in the north,” Musso said. “After all, the city was built on seven hills so the Romans’ lack of enthusiasm for bikes is expected.”