Milan Urban

Milan’s metro network is growing to Monza. I want more.

Milan has made some decisions on the next expansion of its metro network. I'm dreaming 20 years ahead. Or 50?

The metro construction works in front of our house are a blessing. Few other measures could have been as effective against street noise as them. It’s a paradoxical truth. Right in front of the door, we have a pit to build a tunnel underneath one of Milan’s major crossings on the East side. The street has now only one instead of two lanes. At the crossing, turning and proceeding in all directions is not possible anymore. Much of the incoming traffic is diverted via the next big street, 300m to the South. We now have a shortage in parking space, and that next crossing is a guarantee for traffic jams and chaos. Fine. At least, we don’t have an issue with noise anymore.

I’m no expert in urban development, but I follow the launch of major projects with interest. I picked that up in Rotterdam. There was lots to follow. Milan is as well a dynamic city in transformation. Metro construction works will be around for the next ten years.

And this brings me to the headline of this post: In fact, Milan is still expanding its metro network. There’s currently no big project for an entire new line on the table. But some crucial extensions are still being planned. And executed. First up: the prolongation of the red line (M1) from Sesto San Giovanni to Monza – scheduled to be done in 2019. And now also: the extension of the lilac line (M5) from Milano-Bicocca to Monza.

With just above 120,000 inhabitants, Monza is Lombardy’s third-largest city (behind Milan and Brescia, marginally ahead of Bergamo). Number 9, Cinisello Balsamo, is squeezed between Sesto San Giovanni and Monza. There is no visible border between urban areas. Expanding the metro network to Monza seems a clear and natural choice. Sure, there are already commuter trains going from Monza to Milano Centrale and Milano Porta Garibaldi, but not everybody works just around these two train stations. What’s more, Milan’s metro operates with much less disturbances and delays than Trenord. Or at least I’ve never noticed it, because the frequency of trains is high.

For the M5, the plan promises to bring fast-moving public transport to more remote areas of Monza. Citizens then can connect with Milan directly, but also get faster access to Monza’s train station in the other direction. That sounds great. On top of that, the local authorities have decided to let the line run underground. That was the news of the day that made me write this post. Officially, the reasoning is that it preserves street space for cars. More likely, it’s a way to prevent any not-in-my-backyard discussions. Certainly, it will increase cost. One billion Euro is not exactly little money for an extension of 11 stops and 13km. Still seems economic in comparison to other infrastructure projects that lately have been executed in other parts of Europe.

More metro: What they want to do

The time-line for this project reaches far into the next decade. From the start of constructions to their completion, it will take ten years. That’s feels like quite a lot – I guess because they need to pass underneath Monza’s city center. I understand that it’s these long time lines which postpone initiatives for other metro extensions that the city would need. However, it’s not that there are none.

Obviously, there is the new Metro Blu, which is the nickname for line 4. The M4 will connect the city with Linate airport, just six kilometers away from the Duomo in the center of Milan. The line bypasses the historic part on a narrow ring to the South of it, then moves out to the Southwest and ends at the Naviglio Grande in the social housing district of Giambellino. It’s this line to which we owe the quiet environment of our house.

But like many existing metro lines, it ends short of more natural finish points. Specifically in the West and Southwest, metro connections with Corsico (notably the IKEA), Trezzano, Buccinasco, and Baggio could do lots to move commuter traffic off the street. Same for Rozzano in the South. That’s so obvious, it’s absolutely no surprise that plans already exist. Last September, authorities agreed on a long-term plan which involved extensions of the lilac line and the red line on the Western ends, and the green line on the Eastern end.

Even more metro: What I want them to do

Yet, I dream that’s not enough. The featured image of this post fittingly depicts the existing metro network of Milan plus a few extensions that are currently being discussed. It’s there again, below this paragraph. And then, on top of that, two further lines and some extensions that I think the agglomeration would need in the long-term. Black are the existing metro lines. Green is the new M4. Blue are all extensions that are currently under construction or in some sort of a planning phase. Red are extensions that I added, and purple are two entirely new lines.

On the Southwestern end of the M4, it’s straightforward. Corsico is just a stone-throw from the current end of the M4 in San Cristofero. Between San Cristofero and Corsico, furniture and hardware outlets are lined up one after the other, with prominence for the IKEA. There have been some talks about an extension now and then. In deviation from these talks, I’d split the M4 just a bit earlier in an effort to reduce the distance to the closest metro for quite a few people in the Southwestern outskirts.

It’s equally straightforward to connect the shopping center of Fiordaliso with the metro network. Most natural seems to just extend the existing short branch of the M2 to Piazza Abbiategrasso via the suburban communities of Grattosoglio and Quinto de Stampi. However, a tram already runs there, and the stop in Abbiategrasso would need a complete rebuild, as it currently points in the wrong direction.

I have a different idea. Consider for a moment that the shopping centers in Corsico, Assago, and Fiordaliso do not only serve citizens of Milan, but citizens of these and some other adjunct suburbs as well. From my perspective, a better solution might be a metro line that connects the ends of M1, M4, and M2, the shopping districts in Corsico, Assago, and Fiordaliso, and then also offers metro access to citizens of Corsico, Assago, Quinto de Stampi, Opera, and Pieve Emanuele.

There is one more extension in the Southeast, taking the existing M2 from Assago further down to Rozzano, Milano 3, and Binasco. Traffic on this axis is currently forced on a street with just one lane per direction. No space for enlargement. Binasco is the Southern end point of Milan’s visibly metropolitan area. Admittedly, this one is covering a much smaller population. Much of the trajectory could run overground, however.

I drew another extension going from Cernusco sul Naviglio into Milan, ending in Barona. It’s basically an extension of the extension that some people see for the M4 in order to facilitate airport access for people living Northeast of Milan.

Finally, I added one more line in a North-South direction. Some people have called for an extension of the existing M3 further North to Desio and Seregno. Currently, citizens from that area have to take suburban commuter trains via Monza, and for many people public transport access to the next train station exceeds a 20min time span. However, while an extension makes sense, I also recognize that the Northeastern districts of Milan itself (Milano-Bovisa, Milano-Portello, Milano-City Life) are equally disconnected from the city center. Further, the entire nightlife area of the Navigli/Porta Ticinese/Colonne di San Lorenzo is only served with one metro stop at Porta Genova and one at Missori. Walking time from one to the other is 20 minutes. Also Bocconi University, in the same area, does not have a metro stop. Bocconi is a major destination. There are historic reason for this omission, but also pressing arguments to fix it finally. Afterwards, I have this line running out to the South, crossing over to the historic monasteries of Chiaravalle and Viboldone, and to the IKEA and its surrounding shops in Sesto Ulteriano, ending in San Giuliano Milanese. It’s an option that in the past has appeared also in official dreams, but for obvious economic reasons has not found enough support.

Some reasoning behind dreams

The leading paradigm in Milan and many cities is to build direct train lines from the suburbs into the city center. Ideally, a metro network would look something like a star. Because, after all, you want that people have access to the city. Obviously, you adjust for other important destinations and topographic characteristics. Milan is flat. Almost a circular city. And it’s city center is in fact overlapping with its geographic center.

As you add lines, distances between metro stations become smaller the closer you get to the center. Redundancies appear. So, instead of building entirely separate lines, you build joint lines that then fork out to alternative destinations. But these forks usually have two tines, not more, in order to manage a regular frequency of trains. A star at some point just reaches the limit of its capacity the further you get away to the center.

Furthermore, Milan’s inner suburbs are conveniently aligned along major roadways. Most of them were tiny villages until 100 years ago and only grew with the arrival of cars, which followed the arrival of streets. That makes for extremely straightforward lines. But the more far out you get, the less clear is this pattern, and the position of larger communities follows a more random positioning. Then, focusing exclusively on lines  from Milan’s center to the Hinterland (that’s how they call the surrounding areas in local language) will lead to longer stretches over farmland.

When building new metro lines, you want to avoid parallel traffic with existing train lines and other means of public transport unless there is a good reason. For instance, train lines from some areas always run via Milano-Centrale and hence force commuters to make changes. On the map, more direct connections seem possible. It eats up a high share of the city-center capacity of the existing metro lines. If you want to expand these, you’ll add more pressure from more passengers. At some point, you’ll need to distribute them. With trams, space overground remains a big issue in Milan. Trams take space. In some areas, replacing trams with metros would actually create opportunities to build bike lanes for which otherwise there would never be the space.

Finally, this paradigm ignores that not every travel is made coming from and going to Milan. Some suburbs are formally independent communities, but visibly grown together. Dense traffic, harming the effectiveness of buses, also affects travel between these communities. Notably, suburban shopping centers attract people from the city and the surrounding communities alike. (None of Milan’s three IKEA stores has a feasible public transport connection. Italians love IKEA and that generates lots of traffic. They also love IKEA’s delivery service; they would be just fine taking a metro if it existed.) And within these communities. You’re not achieving much if the majority of citizens first has a lengthy transfer to the closest stop of fast-moving public transportation (read: metro).

Bottom-line: I want more metro. I realize I won’t get it. Unless they figure out that Milan is sitting on huge reserves of oil. (Rice oil, maybe?) Someone might appreciate my ideas. And then realize that they might well involve investments in excess of the city’s total budget over the coming 10 years. And someone more meaningful might push forward those extensions that the city agreed on. Let’s get this right: it’s a pretty good list of projects to begin with. By itself cementing Milan’s pole position in public transport development among the big Italian cities.

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