Bicycle plan to keep Venetians living in Venice

Having lived now on a holiday Island (Tasmania) for the past two and half years, I have an inkling as to why Venetians are leaving Venice. Their real population has dropped below sixty thousand and is predicted to be be virtually zero by 2030. One reason for leaving either of these islands is the frightening spectre of being left holding on to real estate in a sinking economy or on land that is literally sinking. Another is to pursue a career in any industry other than education or hospitality.

But another is the poor liveability outcomes when places are planned for visitability. Tasmania is laid out for road trippers wanting to see the whole island in a couple of days. Tourists haven’t demanded public transport or bike paths, so those things don’t exist. Moulded by this environment, local Tasmanians naturally find themselves living the life of the road tripping tourist, frequenting over-priced eateries dotted all over the island like Driver Revivers.

I would love to hear a Venetian’s opinion, but it strikes me that mobility planning there is similarly skewed toward tourists’ tastes. When they’re not shelling out fortunes for gondolas and water taxis, tourists in Venice seem to love walking for miles, leaving locals little option but to walk for miles too.

I know there are other options, like the ferries that all stop by the station. Those ferries though don’t exactly stop in front of every apartment. What I saw when I drifted away from the tourist trails were locals walking as though they were in the Olympics—like they were having to cover some serious ground. For an indication of scale, it’s around 2km from St. Marks back to the station.

All of us living on islands like to complain about the high cost of freight, especially as it impacts the price of groceries or the cost to have something delivered. At least in Tasmania the transport networks designed to please tourists work fine for local delivery vans. In Venice, every grocery item has had to be handled three times, once at a warehouse on the mainland where it was packed onto a truck, next in West Venice where it was packed into a boat, then from that boat (after a painstakingly slow journey because it is illegal for boats to make wakes here) to a trolley for one person to push.

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Why go to all of this trouble, when a delivery trike could make the trip from the mainland in twenty minutes, then circle the island making its rounds in one or two hours? Why doesn’t Venice have a network of cycle tracks and a bike sharing scheme, just for the locals?

There is a physical obstacle. Most of the bridges have stairs. However, a few discretely located modern bike bridges and a few bicycle wheel channels could fix this, along chosen bike routes.

The other obstacle is the tourists. Witness the vitriol directed at one hapless bike lover who asked a bunch of American tourists on this online forum if he could ride his bike there. Tourists are attracted by illusion of living in thirteen hundred and something, when everyone walked or used boats.

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Recently Amy Pedder and I used our exclusive [re]cycle-space mapping technique, combined with notes I made during my trip to Venice last year, to identify all the space throughout Venice where cycling would not really be all that intrusive, especially if were reserved for the residents and for deliveries. We came up with this map (that you can click to enlarge):

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Even if cycling were limited to the East and West end and one cycle track linking the two, it could make a huge difference to peoples lives there.

Angelina Russo has since developed the map into a tapestry, that looks like being our entry in a design competition for a tapestry to be shown in Australia’s pavilion in Venice.

In the tradition of architectural tapestries (most of which, you may know, are commissioned just to fix the acoustics), the image is abstracted to the brink of recognisability so that like the form of the building, it is there for those who either want to know, or, as is more often the case, are “in the know” as to its meaning. If our entry is successful, I would like if those in-the-know included residents of Venice who want cheaper goods and deliveries, and better mobility. If you know someone who lives there, please share this link with them. I would love to hear what they think. Please use the comments box below:

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