Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with its 403 bridges and myriad canals. However, one person’s Instagram dream may be another’s mobility nightmare.
It has been nearly impossible to navigate the lagoon city in a wheelchair. There are only a few areas that can be accessed by a wheelchair and the waterbus service, which is accessible, only runs limited routes.
All that could be changing is now. Venice authorities are determined to make Venice’s major sights accessible to everyone. They have created a wheelchair-friendly route that connects the main entrance point to St. Mark’s Square.
The council announced six ramps in heavily populated areas of the city to kick-start the project: four at St. Mark’s route and two at other critical points for residents. The scheme will cost EUR900,000. ($1.6 million).
Francesca Zaccariotto (councilor for public works) stated that the goal was to “build at least one route that allows people of all ages to travel at least from Piazzale Roma [the gateway into the Italian mainland] to St. Mark’s with no barriers.”
It will be the first time Venice is wheelchair-accessible in its history. According to legend, the city was founded in 421CE.
This new route is not only wheelchair-friendly. Zaccariotto stated that the plan has been widened to make it accessible for all, even blind people.
“We are making bridges more accessible by making steps easier to climb and adding non-slippery surfaces to make it easier for everyone.”
Because Venice has a strict cultural heritage, it is difficult to update. She said that the goal is to be “an example for accessibility for people with disabilities.”
The move has been praised by wheelchair users. Tony Heaton, a British sculptor who is often in the city to work, described the current situation as an “access nightmare”, but stated that the route planned would be of “huge importance.”
He said to CNN that Venice “always seems like Venice looks away when it thinks of wheelchair users, falling back onto the ‘ancient cities’ rhetoric.”
“I have walked the streets of the city with many helpers who carry the wheelchair for me over the years. Although I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, it is difficult to navigate the city without the help of others.
In 2016, two enterprising gondoliers created a wheelchair-accessible gondola at their own expense. The Gondolas4all project, however, is in limbo due to lack funding.
Heaton said that the ramps would be “liberating” for Venice’s older and disabled residents, who feel often trapped. He has previously held accessibility discussions at Venice’s Biennale exhibition and spoken to locals about their experiences.
In the initial stage, five bridges will have ramps. The Ponte de la Croze will be the first. It is located near Piazzale Roma. It will connect with other bridges that already have ramps to allow step-free access through Santa Croce and San Polo to the San Toma vaporetto stop.
There is a vaporetto that can be taken from there across the Grand Canal, which is free for wheelchair users. It then goes to San Samuele. The route continues through the Ponte dei Frati connecting Santo Stefano with Sant’Angelo.
The route then passes the Fenice opera house — “It’s a significant place that should be accessible to everybody,” stated Zaccariotto — and on to St. Mark’s.
One thing is missing from the plans: the Ponte Vecia Malvasia bridge, located near the Fenice will not include a ramp during the first round of construction. To make the route fully accessible, authorities are currently working with heritage preservation officials to find a solution.
A ramp will be added to the St. Mark’s route. The ramp will be installed on the steps that lead from the Campo della Misericordia square towards the Fondamenta della Misericordia, a nightlife hub. One will travel to Giudecca, an island located just off the Palanca Vaporetto stop. This is a popular residential area that’s becoming increasingly popular with tourists.
Venice has ramps for years. Temporary ramps have been installed in Venice for the marathon for six years. They were left there for most of the year at places like the Zattere waterfront, in the Dorsoduro area, and the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront, which is world-famous for its famed waterfront, outside St. Mark’s.
Heaton stated that they are not ideal. He said that they are often crowded with people who are not disabled taking photos and blocking them.
Zaccariotto stated that the authorities will also replace temporary ramps. She said that the first permanent ramp, which will be on Riva degli Schiavoni is being constructed. She said that they were based on the Zattere experience and modified the surface to ensure no noise. This improves the acoustics, aesthetics, slipperiness, and sound quality.
Executive will approve the plans for new bridges, then they will be open for tender. The goal is to finish the project in a matter of months.
Heaton added that the plans would send a strong message to all other countries that fail to address access issues. They will not be excused.”
“If Venice can do this, it can be done everywhere.” All it takes is political will.