The mayor Luigi Brugnaro spoke of a “black alert”, a term normally used to advise drivers against motorway travel on the days of most intense holiday traffic. Venice is preparing to cordon off its streets, set up diversions and one-way streets, and to move motorboats from St Mark’s to a less central area, to cope with the expected assault of tourists over the long May bank holiday weekend.
A taste of the summer to come, with crowds, bottlenecked streets and queues at the vaporetto landing stages was already seen at Easter, which is why the council has decided to take action and experiment with interactive tourist flow management. “We want to defend and safeguard Venice,” explained Brugnaro. “It’s a commitment that we have entered into with UNESCO, but above all with the residents.”
The mayor is asking for more extensive powers, which would allow him to cut off access to the historic center on the busiest tourist days by introducing mandatory booking and passes. He, however, will need an ad hoc provision from the government, possibly to be included in the new special legislation for Venice, which the city authorities and business associations have been pressing for. In the meantime, they will have to manage the almost 30 million tourists who arrive each year with the existing laws.
The ordinance signed a few days ago by the mayor to “make the historic city, safe, secure and liveable” is the first step: Brugnaro may be talking of experimentation, but he already has plans to implement the system throughout the summer. “Venice is fragile, and we will conduct trial runs, but regardless of what the complainers always say, we do not want to drive tourists away; if they respect the city they are welcome.
The ‘black alert’, however, is a way of warning those who want to visit that there could be an extraordinarily high number of tourists over the coming days, which could make visiting the city difficult,” he said. Record numbers are expected for the May Day bank holiday weekend, with almost all hotels fully booked, and the number of tourists set to exceed the 200,000 of the Easter weekend. It is thus no coincidence that Brugnaro has asked day trippers to reschedule for other dates.
However, from Saturday 28 April to Tuesday 1 May, measures are in place to divert pedestrian and water traffic, for example by closing the Ponte della Costituzione or restricting access to the Lista di Spagna, the street leading from the station directly to Rialto. The city council calls them “plunger blocks”, and emphasizes that their closure is only envisaged during times of heavy pedestrian traffic, and will only affect tourists.
Passes for residents
Residents, workers and commuters, meanwhile, will be able to move around freely with the “Venezia unica” travel card. The wooden-clad motor launches arriving from the beaches and hinterland, which every day spew out hundreds of people at a time directly into St Mark’s Square, will be moved to Fondamenta Nuove, in a less central area of the old town, while if parking spaces run out at Piazzale Roma, the police will restrict traffic on the Ponte della Libertà. The latest news on possible detours will be posted on the Twitter and Facebook profiles of the local police and council; those who do not respect the provisions risk a fine of between €25 and €500.