Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Commonsense and bridges

An article in today's Independent Online strikes a chord in my ex-architect soul:
Venice is to get a new bridge, its first in more than 70 years. This week the first piles were sunk on the bank of the Grand Canal by the railway station for Il ponte di Calatrava, which should be ready to bear its first cargo of tourists across to the buses and car parks of Piazzale Roma by the summer. The prefabricated sections were towed up the canal over the past two summers and are now ready to be bolted in place...

But the most persistent complaints focus on Calatrava's failure to make his bridge accessible to the disabled. The span is approached by glass steps: Calatrava has achieved his beautiful sweep at the expense of those who must wheel or hobble, and in contravention, it is claimed, of Italian law.

Clearly neither the Italian law-makers, nor the IO's journalist (Peter Popham) nor the people trying to manufacture a controversy about the bridge have ever been in Venice. The whole city is inaccessible to wheelchairs! There are roughly four hundred bridges in Venice, and only one of them is wheelchair-accessible. Yes, one. Every other bridge in the whole of Venice is either composed entirely of steps, or has a flight of steps leading to it on both sides. Whether there are 400 non-accessible bridges in Venice or 401 non-accessible bridges, will not change the (freely: miserable) situation of the disabled in the slightest, because they must use a non-accessible bridge—or a Vaporetto, which are wheelchair-accessible—to get to the new bridge in the first place!

(In any case, the bridge is for tourists: it connects the train station to the bus station and carpark. These are presently connected by Vaporetto and will remain so connected.)

Typical bridge in Venice
A random bridge in Venice
Originally uploaded by udge.
Consider the photo on the right, a typical situation. There are seven steps leading from the street to the peak of the bridge, since each step is (from memory) about 16cm, the total rise is roughly a metre. Wheelchair ramps are fairly flat, up to a maximum of 10°; the length of ramp needed is therefore 5.7 metres or 18'8" (this is in fact quite steep, the normal angle is 6° for a length of 9.5 metres or 31'2"). Look at the photo, note that the front doors of the houses opposite the bridge open directly onto the pavement, and then tell me where you would put an eighteen-foot-long ramp? Can't be done. And now consider this: I was standing on another bridge when I took the photo. Where would you put its eighteen-foot-long ramp?

I'm not against provisions for the disabled, but I am for commonsense and the use of the eyes and brain that the Deity gave us. Laws exist to improve our condition, not simply in order to be obeyed.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous May said...

Nice photo. It makes someone who is in love with Venezia, like me, happy. Should you have some more beautiful photos...

January 17, 2007 at 9:02:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger brooksba said...

That is a beautiful photo. I do want to visit Venice one day and never thought of the inaccessibility for wheelchairs. That's a bummer.

January 18, 2007 at 9:16:00 AM GMT+1  
Blogger zhoen said...

Disabled - not able to do everything.

I'm all for accessability, to get to work, in most day-to-day situations, whenever possible and reasonable for enjoyment. But this radical notion that every corner of the earth has to be changed to allow access to a tiny minority in wheelchairs, is just too much. Or else we should just smooth out the Grand Canyon, level San Francisco, pull up Boston brick sidewalks (this has actually been proposed) and pull down all of Venice's bridges.

January 18, 2007 at 12:00:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger paquito said...

Hello,
I'm from Padova, near Venice and I've spent 1 year of my life living in the actual old city of Venice and I'd like just to say that there is, in Venice, 1 bridge designed for disabled also. It is called Ponte delle Guglie and it is the 1st bridge you'll find walking out of the rail station and turning on your left, walking approximately 5 minutes on the main "road", just before Strada Nova.

This doesn't mean that you're wrong of course. Just 2 out of 402 total bridges in the city designed for disabled wouldn't make the city accessible to those on a wheelchair.

cheers
http://www.paquito.it/album/

January 18, 2007 at 5:41:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

Hello Paquito, welcome aboard. I know the bridge you mean, with the flattened-out section beside the handrail; I'd forgotten that. FWIW it would not count as "accessible" in Germany or North America because it's far too steep, but it is definitely much better than the others.

January 18, 2007 at 10:14:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger paquito said...

Thanks Udge,
I agree. I remember that, everytime I was crossing that bridge, I was thinking that it would have required to any disable hoping to cross it to have very good arms in order to push the wheelchair over such a steep ramp and it sounds even more a nightmare if the ramp is packed with turists taking pictures.

Anyway... I'd like to say that this is an issue which has been (and probably still is, as many other endless problems in Venice) deeply discussed and apparently it's not so easy to find a proper solution. Obviously this doesn't mean there are no solutions and I'm the first one saying that Italy is not the best country in the World for decisions-making and good solutions to problems, but it's also true that Venice is a very particular environment where common rules don't always apply, which is part of the magic of the place.

When I was living there I remember a proposition coming from some politics suggesting to demolish every single bridge in the city and create flat ramps to join opposite banks of the canals, in order to facilitate the passage to disables and elderly people (the bridges also freeze in winter, geeting dangerously covered in thick ice).

Venice is costantly under threat by such mad people and I will never forget that Mussolini has been a step away from demolish the whole city, giving an example to the World of progress creating the most modern city possible, with roads replacing the canals and brand new modern buildings.

These are extreme examples and I'm sure there is a good solution somewhere. I also remember I've seen a few bridges equipped with those mobile platforms to let disables cross stairways. But I've never seen one working.

I only hope Venice will survive forever to stupidity, the real threat to its existence.

January 19, 2007 at 11:26:00 AM GMT+1  

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