(CNN) – Its 403 bridges, its countless canals and its pretty cobbled streets have made Venice one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But what is one person’s Instagram dream is another’s nightmare of mobility.
The lakeside city has long been nearly impossible for wheelchair users to navigate, with only a limited number of step-free areas of the city, and a waterbus service (which is accessible) with limited routes.
Now, however, this could all change. The Venice authorities are committed to making the city’s main sights accessible to all, with a wheelchair-friendly route from the city’s main entry point to the iconic St. Mark’s Square.
To start the project, the city council announced the construction of six ramps in busy areas of the city: four on the road to San Marcos and two at other crucial points for the inhabitants. The project will cost € 900,000 (US $ 1.6 million).
Francesca Zaccariotto, councilor for public works, told CNN that the goal was “to build at least one route that allows people of all ages to go at least from Piazzale Roma [la puerta de entrada a la península italiana] to San Marcos without barriers “.
When completed, it will be the first time that Venice has been accessible by wheelchair in its history. The city is said to have been founded in 421 AD.
The new route will not only be accessible to wheelchairs. “We have expanded the plan so that everyone can travel it without problems, including the blind, something that was not in the original plan,” said Zaccariotto.
“We are doing interventions on the bridges, making it easier to climb steps and adding non-slip surfaces that make everything more passable.”
Venice is a difficult city to update, he said, due to strict regulations on modifying its cultural heritage. But, he said, the goal is to become “an example of accessibility for people with mobility problems.”
Wheelchair users have applauded the move. British sculptor Tony Heaton, who often comes to town for work, called the current situation a “nightmare of access” but said the planned route would be “enormously important”.
“It seems that Venice always looks the other way when it thinks of wheelchair users, resorting to the rhetoric of the ‘old city’,” he told CNN.
“Over the years I have had to fight through the city with various helpers who were wheelchair bound. By trial and error, I have a good idea of how to get around and when to use the vaporetto [autobús acuático]but it’s an access nightmare and it could be so much better with a little bit of joint thinking. “
In 2016, two enterprising gondoliers independently created a wheelchair accessible gondola. However, the Gondolas4all project is currently on hold due to lack of funding.
Heaton added that the ramps would be “liberating for the elderly and disabled residents of Venice, who often feel trapped.” In the past, he has held discussions about accessibility at the city’s Biennale art exhibition, and has spoken with locals about their experiences.
The accessibility project
In the first phase of the project, five bridges with ramps will be equipped. The Pont de la Croze, near Piazzale Roma, will be the first. It will link with other bridges that already have ramps, allowing step-free access through the Santa Croce and San Polo areas to the San Toma vaporetto stop.
From there, users will have to take the vaporetto that crosses the Grand Canal (free for wheelchair users) to San Samuele, where the route continues along the Ponte dei Frati, connecting the squares of Santo Stefano and Sant’Angelo.
From there, the route passes the famous Fenice opera house. “It is an important place that must be accessible to everyone,” says Zaccariotto and arrives in San Marcos.
The only drawback is that a bridge near La Fenice, the Ponte Vecia Malvasia, will not have a ramp in this first phase of construction.
The authorities are working on a solution that satisfies those responsible for the preservation of heritage, so that the tour is fully accessible.
In addition to the San Marcos route, the stairs that lead from Campo de la Misericordia square to the Fondamenta de la Misericordia, an important nightlife center, will also have a ramp. Another will go to the island of Giudecca, right next to the Palanca vaporetto stop, a residential area increasingly popular with visitors.
The ramp widens
Ramps are not new in Venice. In the last six years, the temporary ramps installed for the annual marathon have been left for most of the year in places such as the Zattere promenade, in the Dorsoduro district, and on the Riva degli Schiavoni, the world famous promenade. on the outskirts of San Marcos.
But Heaton says they are not ideal. “They are usually crowded with people without disabilities who take photos from there and impede the passage,” he explains.
In addition to the new bridges, authorities will replace existing temporary ramps, Zaccariotto said. The first permanent one, which will go on the Riva degli Schiavoni, is already under construction, he said. “We have perfected them based on the experience of [las rampas de] the Zattere, changing the surface, using a material that guarantees the absence of noise, thus improving acoustics, aesthetics and gliding, “he said.
The plans for the new bridges will be approved by the Executive, and then they will be put out to tender. The idea is to complete the project in a few months.
“It would be a huge message for other places that don’t address the issue of access: they will be left without an excuse,” Heaton added of the proposed plans.
“If Venice can do it, everyone can do it. It just takes political will.”
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