(NewsMadura) — Its 403 bridges, countless canals and pretty cobbled streets have made Venice one of the world’s most beautiful cities. But what’s one person’s Instagram dream is another’s mobility nightmare.
The lagoon city has long been nearly impossible for wheelchair users to navigate, with only limited areas of the city with no steps, and the waterbus service (which is accessible) with limited routes.
Now, however, that could all change. Venice authorities have vowed to make the city’s main attractions accessible to all, with a wheelchair-friendly route from the city’s main gateway to iconic St. Mark’s Square.
The ramps will connect a series of bridges running from Piazzale Roma to St. Mark’s Square.
Thanks to Comune di Venice
To kick off the project, the council has announced the construction of six ramps in high-traffic areas of the city: four on the route to St. Mark’s and two at other critical points for local residents. The scheme will cost €900,000 ($1.6 million).
Francesca Zaccariotto, councilor for public works, told NewsMadura the goal was “to build at least one route that would allow people of all ages to go at least from Piazzale Roma. [the gateway to the Italian mainland] to St. Mark’s without barriers.”
When finished, it will be Venice’s first wheelchair access in its history. The city is said to have been founded in 421CE.
The new route will not only be wheelchair accessible. “We’ve broadened the plan so that anyone can do it without any problems, including the blind, which was not in the original plan,” Zaccariotto says.
Venice’s bridges make it insurmountable for many visitors with mobility issues.
Marco Piraccini/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images
“We’re doing interventions on bridges, making stairs easier to climb and adding non-slippery surfaces that make everything more navigable.”
Venice is a tricky city to update, she said, due to strict rules around changing its cultural heritage. But, she said, the goal is to “become an example of accessibility for people with mobility issues.”
Wheelchair users welcome the move. British sculptor Tony Heaton, who is often in town for work, called the current situation an “access nightmare” but said the planned route would be of “huge importance”.
“It always feels like Venice always looks away when it thinks about wheelchair users and falls back on the ‘old town’ rhetoric,” he told NewsMadura.
“I’ve struggled around the city over the years with several helpers carrying the wheelchair. Through trial and error I have a good idea of how to get around and when to use the vaporetto [waterbus], but it’s an access nightmare and could be much better with some collective thinking.”
Heaton added that the ramps would be “liberating for the elderly and disabled residents of Venice, who often feel trapped”. In the past, he held accessibility discussions at the city’s Biennale art exhibition and spoke to locals about their experiences.
The blueprint for accessibility
The bridges are also designed to be non-slippery and quiet.
Thanks to Comune di Venice
In the first phase of the project, five bridges will be provided with ramps. The Ponte de la Croze, near Piazzale Roma, will be the first. It will connect to other bridges that already have ramps, allowing stepless access through the Santa Croce and San Polo areas to the San Toma vaporetto stop.
From there, people should take the vaporetto across the Grand Canal (free for wheelchair users) to San Samuele, where the route continues over the Ponte dei Frati, connecting the squares of Santo Stefano and Sant’Angelo.
From there, the route goes past the famous Fenice Opera House – “It’s an important place that should be accessible to everyone,” Zaccariotto said – and to St. Mark’s.
There’s only one key in the making — one bridge at the Fenice, the Ponte Vecia Malvasia, won’t have a ramp in this first round of construction. In order to make the route fully accessible, work is being done on a solution that meets the requirements of the conservation of monuments.
In addition to San Marco’s route, stairs leading from Campo della Misericordia square to the Fondamenta della Misericordia – an entertainment center – will also have a ramp. Another goes to Giudecca Island, near the Palanca vaporetto stop, a residential area increasingly popular with visitors.
City ramps are already well received by residents and visitors alike.
Thanks to Comune di Venice
Slopes are not new in Venice. For the past six years, temporary ramps have been installed for most of the year for the annual marathon in places such as the Zattere waterfront in the Dorsoduro district and on the Riva degli Schiavoni, the world-famous waterfront outside St. Mark’s.
But Heaton said they are not ideal. “They’re usually full of non-disabled people taking pictures of them and blocking them,” he said.
In addition to the new bridges, authorities will replace the temporary ramps already in place, Zaccariotto said. The first permanent one, which will be on the Riva degli Schiavoni, is already under construction, she said. “We have perfected them based on the experience of [the ramps on] de Zattere, which changes the surface, with material that guarantees no noise, improving acoustics, aesthetics and smoothness,” she said.
The plans for the new bridges are adopted by the Municipal Executive and subsequently put out to tender. The idea is to complete the project in a few months.
“It would be a huge message to other places that aren’t tackling access – they won’t have an excuse anymore,” Heaton added of the proposed plans.
“If Venice can do it, it can be done anywhere. It just needs political will.”