Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Venice? It's Bath without the traffic

Where the streets have no can be done
Last week in this column I spoke about one of the issues which you can guarantee British people love to talk about – the weather.

And this week I’m focusing on another perennial and universal theme which everyone in Britain (and it seems even more so in Bath) is happy to debate. And that is traffic.
The reason that traffic has been on my mind a lot this week is that I’ve just returned from a lovely few days away in Venice.
Venice, as I’m sure many of you know, is a truly beautiful city and one which shares many things with Bath – beautiful buildings, amazing places to visit and the lovely hustle and bustle of a living, working city whose population is constantly swelled by enthusiastic tourists.

What it doesn’t share, however, is the traffic problem. For, as even the most basic geography student will tell you, Venice is a city based on the water and the only ways you can get around are either on foot, in a boat or if you’re very lucky, in a gondola.

It is like visiting Bath but with the convenience of no A4 or A36 getting in the way.
It felt quite surreal being part of an area where the car was as alien as the spacecraft, but it did highlight again to me something which has been discussed in these pages in recent weeks and that is just what can be done when you have a large stretch of water to help people move around.

The splendidly-positive Bath Avon River Group recently produced a 120-page report for making the most of our river and having now had my Venetian experience, what they say about using our waterways makes even more sense.

Venetians treat boats as their cars/buses and seem to get about to do their daily tasks without any problem whatsoever so it can be done.

My partner Lin and I on a gondola. Look good in Bath these! 
Of course we don’t quite have the Grand Canal running through the heart of our community but we have so many areas where surely a water bus could work and help create a ‘park and float’ mode of transport as  suggested by Nick Brooks-Sykes, who recently took over the key tourism role in the city.
The truth is we simply have to do something at some point to ease the pressure on our roads because all the indications are that more and more people are going to want to use their cars and we simply don’t have the road capacity to cope with them.

I was fascinated this week to see a survey that showed there are now more than one million drivers with licences over the age of  80 (and an amazing 120 are over 100 years old). As the population continues to get healthier and live longer lives, these figures will only increase and with so many youngsters also wanting to get behind the wheel (and who knows how long it will be before 16 year olds are allowed to drive?) we could end up with almost permanent gridlock – something I definitely didn’t see on the waterways of Venice.

So, having now been given a glimpse of how a city can survive without the cars we regard as our essential lifeline, I hope more thought can be put into what we can do with our waterways.

We need it  before we literally reach the end of the road in terms of the traffic that chokes up our city centres.

It's nice 'ere - but where is the traffic???

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