A city divided

Be in the know before the Tramvia referendum

Brenda Dionisi
February 7, 2008

The debate on whether to continue the construction of the proposed urban tram network in Florence has becomrame fierce.  With a referendum on Tramvia Lines 2 and 3 scheduled for February 17, opposing sides have been in a bitter contest to convince undecided voters.  here in brief are the major issues advanced by both supporters and adversaries.


1. What is the Tramvia?

The Tramvia is a light rail, above-ground public transportation system. Lighter than a regular train, it runs on tracks, yet it emits only moderate levels of low-frequency noise. Although a trolleybus or busvia connected to overhead wires and operating on rubber tires is quieter, a tramvia does not emit exhaust. Tramvias also provide higher-capacity service than do regular buses and busvias. Running on its own track system, it will be not be affected by traffic or cause traffic delays for other vehicles.


Three tramvia lines are proposed to connect Florence ’s main areas, including the historical center and several surrounding municipalities. The total cost of the entire network is estimated at 700 million euro. Officials at Palazzo Vecchio project that Tramvia Line 1, which would connect the suburbs of Scandicci and Florence’s SMN train station, will be operative by spring 2009. Its estimated cost is 211 million euro. The line, with 15 stops, will stretch for a total of 7.5 kilometers. Construction of Line 2 (7.5 kilometers, 17 stops) and Line 3 (4.5 kilometers, 9 stops) is scheduled to begin in 2008 and end by the close of 2011, completing the system.


2. The referendum

Citizens collected 10,000 signatures to call a citywide public referendum on February 17. In reality, two referendums will be on the table that day, and both request the revocation of several points approved by City Council regarding lines 2 and 3. Citizens will be asked their opinion of the entire Tramvia project. Those who want to abandon the whole plan would vote ‘Yes’; ‘No’ is for those who wish to see the project completed. Because this is an advisory referendum, a quorum is not necessary, nor are city administrators obliged to take the results into account. The referendums on February 17 do not deal with only the Tramvia; they also ask voters’ opinions on proposed mobility, economic investment, infrastructure and urban-planning projects.


3. Cost and ticket price

Opponents of the Tramvia argue that city hall is dedicating too much public funding to its construction. A busvia network would be much cheaper and easier. Some have even suggested that an underground subway system would not be much costlier than officials are already willing to spend on the Tramvia. For every month of delay, the city must dish out 750,000 euro to the company supplying the train carriages. The delay on Line 1 will cost the city 18 months in late charges.


Although city officials promise that Tramvia tickets will cost the same as bus tickets, 1.20 euro, opponents are skeptical. The city will spend an estimated 13 euro to transport each passenger on Line 1, according to figures cited by councilor Razzanelli.


4. Traffic, pollution and vibrations

Approximately 180,000 commuters travel to Florence by car each day; there are 350,000 cars on city streets and 190,000 scooters every day. Approximately 2,000 buses drive by the Duomo daily. The results of a study conducted by Ataf show that the Tramvia will reduce traffic in the city centre by only 4 percent. However, spokesmen from Federconsumatori project a 15 percent reduction in private vehicles in the city and a 50 percent reduction for surrounding areas, adding that the Tramvia will reduce carbon dioxide by 43 percent, nitrogen oxide by 37 percent and particulate matter by 21 percent. 


A fierce battle ensued months ago over the destruction of existing urban greenery. City officials assert that all trees cut down to make room for the Tramvia will be replaced, but residents continue to call for reprisal. Some 7000 residents will loose their parking spots along the streets where the tramvia will travel.


In addition, dissenters have objected to the low-frequency noise pollution and vibrations the tramvia will emit when running, especially in areas of increased architectural importance like the Duomo. City officials report that tramvia vibrations are estimated to be less than 60 decibels. Compared to the average 75 decibels measured inside the Duomo and 71 decibels measured outside, current car and bus traffic seems to create more vibration than the tramvia would. Sitting atop a thick layer of rubber, Florence’s rails will vibrate less and be quieter than those of other tramvia systems.


5. Tracks, curbs and aesthetics

The protective curbs have been fiercely criticized. Opponents argue that the curbs will divide the city, creating an architectural barrier between pedestrians on either side of the street. However, the curbs allowing the tramvia to travel without delays from other traffic also protect cyclists, who would risk serious injury if their bike tires got struck between the rails. Vice mayor of Florence, Giuseppe Matulli, has assured that the barriers will be only 5 centimetres higher than the asphalted pavement and no higher than sidewalk curbs.


Nonetheless, opponents contend that the curbs would worsen traffic: With the tramvia occupying approximately 50 percent of any given city street, it would be very difficult for emergency vans and other large vehicles to share the road. How could an ambulance pass if gridlocked traffic is occupying the only available lane? And what would happen if there were mechanical problems with the tramvia? Would there be room for construction firms to enter the narrowed streets with big trucks and erect scaffolding? 


Opponents also argue that tramvia cars will obscure the Duomo and Baptistery. However, Palazzo Vechhio assures that the height and weight of the carriages will not be any larger or heavier than the buses currently in use. The Line 2 carriages traveling next to the Duomo will be equipped with special 800-kilo batteries. Thus, there will not be any overhead wires along that 300-metre trajectory.



Get informed before you vote.


For more information on the Tramvia project visit the following websites:





Visit the Tramvia Infopoint in Quartiere 5, located on the first floor of Quartiere 5 administration building on Via Lambruschini 33. Open every Tuesday from 3:30 to 5:30pm.

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