Cycling Visionaries Awards – Project Details

Venetian Bikeway Retrofit

Venetian Bikeway Retrofit

Venice, the city on water, is an amazing work of art, a living museum, and real-world example for urban planners seeking to help reduce car use, increase physical activity, and maximize the enjoyment of public space. Yet presently, the bicycle, that miraculous invention with so much to offer a healthier, more sustainable city, has no role beyond children's play in plazas. Why not float bikeways?

What if we could bicycle, in Venice?

Not on the narrow alleys and across the historic plazas, or up and down the many steep bridges; but instead take to the curving urban canals, biking on floating platforms over the water?

Wouldn't it be magical to sail silently through like a bird, flowing freely with no obstructions, watching that majestic renaissance cityscape glide by, at night gliding over the lights shimmering on water?

In fact, it is possible! And we can expect there would be many benefits, for a surprisingly low cost! But would this be compatible with such a unique and historic city?

While adding bicycles to most pedestrian areas in Venice could seem incompatible with the space limitations and the historic culture, the many waterways of the city are a different option, and could in theory provide a main bicycle artery connecting the train station to the distant tip of the city, perhaps even an entire future floating bicycle network.

Venice is sinking, and shrinking; and frequently, flooding. Although carfree, the pollution from newly introduced motorboats detracts from the pristine nature of this remarkable city. And the many steps and bridges in its winding labyrinth of corridors pose such an accessibility problem that the City has been actively pursuing new solutions. The Venetian Bikeway Retrofit has the potential to address all these and more in one elegant solution.

Such a solution has many expected benefits:
-Highest mobility (fastest, cheapest way to distant points)
-Accessibility for wheelchairs
-Dry land & network connectivity during flooding
-Carbon-free, low pollution cargo delivery
-Inexpensive, high use (main bikeway surface only 2.5M euros)
-Increased jobs and tourism opportunities, increased visitation of farther reaches
-Low-impact, everyday exercise, helping those with mobility limitations to stay healthy and avoid disability and disease, in a city currently having few options
-Opening city to increased inhabitation & urban life

Today, the fastest way from the train station to the far reaches of the city is by boat. The distance to popular Piazza San Marco is less than 1.6 km (1 mile), which one could easily bicycle in under 5 minutes, yet takes close to an hour by boat, and more by foot; with a single boat journey 7 euros.

In contrast, a bikeway solution for the same trip could be as short as 2000 m, less than 10 minutes for an average cyclist at a relaxed pace, with no fee and no petroleum emissions. Based on the cost of the Eastbank Esplanade floating walkway/bikeway in Portland, Oregon (the longest floating path in the United States, built in 2000), the base cost of such a Venetian bike path/trunk corridor, is estimated to be only 2.5M euros, excluding any bridges, ramps, or other treatments needed for connectivity and avoiding conflicts with boats (which could cost much more). This for a generously wide 5.5 meter path, with length of 2000 meters. Our goal is to assess the minimum cost, least-conflict means, along with the benefits and changes expected, so Venice can consider this novel idea.

The project was borne at Degrowth Venezia 2012, when groups of Bicycle advocates, Carfree Cities theorists, and Ecocities enthusiasts met with Urban Planners from Venice to discuss the state of the city. The project took new life after a magical dream in which bicycling through the canals was possible, and Venice grew steadily higher, into the mountains (complete with Elves!). Research into floating bikeways focused on Portland's Eastbank Esplanade floating walkway/bikeway. Participation in an on-water landscape architecture design lab, seeking to combine renewable energy with existing lagoon uses, added to the data points and inspiration.

The Venetian Bikeway project is a vision of Escher City Associates, led by Jason Meggs, who has the first-hand experience having pedaled both to, and even briefly within, Venice; as well on the Eastbank Esplanade; and years of campaigning for bridge access.

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Jason Meggs
Berkeley, CA, United States

Category: Urban Planning and Urban Design

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