Venice needs a subway, not Mayor Orsoni’s “discipline”, “sacrifices” and 26 new canal regulations

Grand Canal

Following the tragic crash between a gondola and water bus on Venice’s Grand Canal on 17 August 2013, Venice City Council proposed 26 new regulations on 26 August. The accident killed German university lecturer Jaochim Vogel and threw his family into the water, leading to minor head injuries to his 3-year old daughter. This was a terrible accident for the Vogel family and improvements to Venice’s busy canals are needed to reduce the chances of future accidents. Yet the 26 proposals by Venice City Council and Venice Mayor Giorgio Orsoni will make life more difficult for people in Venice without addressing the problem of congested canals.

Firstly, it is important to note that the gondolier, Stefano Pizzagia, who was navigating the gondola in which Vogel was crushed to death, has tested positive for cocaine and hashish at the time of the accident. Therefore, irresponsible drug-taking by Pizzagia seems likely to have been a factor in the accident as he failed to guide his gondola away from the water bus. The dynamics of the accident are still being examined using video camera evidence and there is also the possibility that another gondola made a manoeuvre which contributed to the accident, as discussed in this article in the Venetian newspaper La Nuova Venezia on 27 August 2013:
Incidente in Canal Grande. C’è un altro indagato: è un secondo gondoliere

However, it is already clear that Pizzagia should be severely punished and people navigating boats in Venice should not be under the influence of drugs. Moreover, this rare accident and irresponsible behaviour should not lead to widespread regulations that will affect all those who use Venice’s canals.

Venice Mayor Orsoni told the BBC “we need some discipline” on 26 August after announcing 26 new regulations. “These measures will require some sacrifices for citizens,” added Orsoni, as quoted in this BBC article:
Venice seeks safer canal traffic after fatal gondola crash

These 26 regulations include proposals to:

* Reduce ACTV water bus services with the prospect raised of cancelling the fast Line 2 service and increasing the slow Line 1 service
* Ban private boats from the Grand Canal between 6 am and 12 am
* Gondola boats will only be able to operate after a certain time in the morning (probably 10.30 am). They will no longer be able to navigate the Grand Canal in a multiple ‘caravan’ formation
* Boats collecting trash will only be able to operate during the night
* There will be fixed hours for commercial boats delivering cargo
* Remove some small docks to create more canal space
* Regular drug tests for gondoliers with fixed police check points at the Rialto Bridge and Punta della Dogana
* Ban the use of cell phones and other hand-held devices while navigating a boat
* Restrict navigating particular canals by commercial traffic, large tourist boats and water taxis, especially on the Grand Canal, Rio di Noale – Rio Novo and the Punta della Dogana

Details of the proposals are in this article in La Nuova Venezia on 26 August 2013: Canal Grande, la rivoluzione del traffico acqueo. It should be emphasised that these are currently only proposals and will be subject to negotiation with various different interested parties. In particular, representatives of gondoliers, labor unions and citizens’ groups have raised concerns.

While objections have been voiced about details of these regulations, the long-standing proposal to construct a subway as a solution to canal congestion and environmental damage is being ignored. As explained in my book, Venice in Environmental Peril? Myth and Reality (2012), an underwater subway train system has been debated for many years. In 2008, a design was submitted to Venice City Council for tubes through the lagoon to connect the Lido, Murano, Tessera near the airport, the Arsenal and Fondamente Nuove. Plans for 12 proposed stations were exhibited at Venice’s Santa Marta in 2010. A subway train system would reduce the need for public water buses, water taxis and some cargo could also be transported by trains. In addition to reducing congestion and the risk of accidents, the subway would diminish lagoon erosion and wave damage caused by tens of thousands of boat trips every day. Yet environmental activists have consistently campaigned against the subway and the Nosublagunare committee collected 12,000 signatures to put pressure on Venice City Council to ignore the project.

Instead of seriously considering the subway, Venice City Council has increased boat traffic by introducing ‘Art’ water buses, which are notoriously sparse of passengers. Also, allowing private water buses to compete with the state-owned ACTV water buses has increased congestion; there should be one publicly-run water bus service.

Venice City Council and Venice Mayor Orsoni have established a clear policy orientation based on more regulation and competing services. This will not significantly reduce congestion or reduce the risk of accidents. In the aftermath of this tragic accident, reducing congestion in Venice will require bold proposals for infrastructure development.

3 Responses to “Venice needs a subway, not Mayor Orsoni’s “discipline”, “sacrifices” and 26 new canal regulations”
  1. Dominic Standish says:

    Venice City Council presents changes to its Territorial Plan (PAT), which include 2 subway lines – 1 from the airport to the Arsenale & Lido, 2 from Cavallino (maybe Jesolo town & beaches) to Treporti & Chioggia: reported in Il Gazzettino di Venezia, 10.9.2013, p.9, by Elisio Trevisan

  2. Sidney F says:

    Thaanks for the post

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