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Thriving Without Cars
Photo: Gabor Palla
A city that thrives without cars or trucks sounds attractive—maybe even an answer to prayer.

Welcome to Venice, Italy. Founded around AD 450, Venice today has about 70,000 permanent residents. That is considerably less than the 200,000 that resided in the city at the height of its glory as a city-state in the 15th and 16th centuries. During tourist season, one can imagine the density of that era. While tourism is a mainstay of the economy, there are other industries such as the glass factories of Murano and the lace-makers on the island of Burano.

Venice thrives without cars or trucks because it is spread out over more than 100 islands. People get around by walking or taking water taxis, gondolas, or the vaporetto (water buses that operate on a timetable). Oh, yes, a train line links the city to the mainland. Walking is enjoyable because of the beautiful architecture, though the twisting walkways have been likened to a maze—originally designed to confuse invaders. A detailed map is necessary.

Like any city, people and stuff are transported every day. But the water currents and the open sea a mere two km away are factors that affect mobility. The fluidity of the waterways adds a whole new dimension of hazards. What road can rise or fall unexpectedly, depending on the winds and weather fronts? While one can be run over by a vehicle on a hard surface, being surrounded by water adds the possibility of drowning to commuting by open boat. One wonders how many school children have reported “losing” homework that dropped into a canal as a variation of “my dog ate my homework.” Think about the smell of fresh asphalt and then imagine the odor of a polluted waterway that surrounds homes, schools, and churches—powerful incentive to minimize contamination.

Getting From Here to There

There are a variety of ways to get around Venice. The water bus system has a variety of routes, and timetables are posted at most landing stages. While painfully slow, it is an affordable means. There are discounts for return tickets, 24-hour and three-day tickets, as well as a frequent traveler card.

Water taxis are metered and provide point-to-point service for fixed rates. Taxi stands are located in a number of places, and one can phone one of the services (nine were listed in one tourist guidebook) to schedule pick-up. Gondolas provide a leisurely tour of Venice—either for a fixed price for a defined route or negotiated rates for a custom tour. Gondola ferries are a convenient way to get across the Grand Canal (the main waterway) without walking to a bridge. Look for yellow signs marked “Traghetto” to take advantage of this service; but be forewarned, the price is cheap because you ride standing up.

No doubt about it, transportation in Venice is different. Undoubtedly, the amount of walking contributes to better physical fitness, and navigating the winding waterways via commercial boats increases patience.

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Norma Sahlin. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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