I remember when I first arrived in Rome I was in a taxi from the airport to the city center. I experienced the roads for the first time from the backseat and I said to myself, “This is complete chaos!” The roads are filled with buses, taxis, cars, motorcycles, mopeds, scooters, bikes, and trams. Motorini zipping in and out of traffic, finding any opportunity to get around the car in front of them. Buses stopping on the side of the road to pick up riders. Taxis driving around popular areas. Everyone else driving to and from work. A town of 4 million people plus tourists equals congested roadways. Simple.
One of the most driven roads and one I take often is the Lungotevere. The Lungotevere is a road that runs along the River Tiber. The River Tiber comes from the Apennine Mountains in north central Italy , runs through the heart of Rome, and deposits into the Tyrrhenian Sea. It offers the fastest way to get from the north end of town to the south end.
As a volunteer here at Sant’Anselmo, I serve primarily as the driver for the Abbot Primate. He has many meetings in the Vatican and the Lungotevere is the most efficient way to get there. I take it for about 15 minutes, winding along the river, turn left and I’m right in front of St. Peter’s Square. It’s an easy drive, but since the Lungotevere is one of the most central roads, it means lots of traffic and pedestrians.
As a pedestrian, you can witness the chaos up close. You’ll hear car horns, the sirens of an ambulance or police car, and people yelling from their cars. You’ll notice other tourists waiting patiently at crosswalks and Italians/ locals doing the exact opposite: crossing when they think it’s safe enough. It’s a dangerous game, but the pedestrian always has the right of way. And boy oh boy do Italians take advantage of this right. Obviously at a stoplight you wait for the light to turn green, but there are plenty of places with white lines placed in the middle of the road where there are no stoplights. Anyone who’s lived here for longer than a few weeks catches on to the unwritten rule that you can cross when you want. It’s a weird feeling stepping out in front of a car, but you don’t really think about it. You just, kind of, do it. I can assure you from experience the drivers in Rome are used to stopping for pedestrians. It’s normal to them. It’s also normal for them to spot foreigners. Like I said before, these are the people that are waiting patiently on the sidewalk. When drivers see these people, they hit the gas instead of pumping the brakes. This is why it’s necessary to be the aggressor. Show them you are crossing and you’re doing it NOW.