For years, the majority of residents in Florence have advocated a more pedestrian- and cycle-friendly city, not only to reduce pollution levels but also to create a more vibrant, energetic urban centre.
Their requests were recently answered.
Officials from Palazzo Vecchio have announced that more areas in Florence will become pedestrian in time for the city's Feast of Saint John, the city's patron saint, on June 24. Champion of the move is the city's mayor, Matteo Renzi, who recently announced that piazza Pitti and via Tornabuoni will go totally pedestrian in the days leading up to the 'fochi' so that Florentines ‘can celebrate their patron saint, the traffic-free.'
With these hubs slated to be cleared of the thousands of vehicles and buses that pass daily, residents are breathing a sign of relief-though not all of them.
Groups against the pedestrian-only zones have already started mounting campaigns to halt the changeover to motor traffic-free zones.
According to the city's revised pedestrian master plan, piazza Pitti will become a pedestrian-only zone between Ponte Vecchio and via Guicciardini. This will decrease traffic along lungarno Torrigiani, yet increase it on via dei Bardi. The next step in the plan is to extend the traffic-free zone to via Maggio and via Tornabuoni. When work in piazza Santo Spirito, scheduled to be completed by June 24, is over, the traffic ban will also be extended to this piazza; that ban will include even the vehicles of disabled motorists.
The new pedestrian-only zones will necessitate a host of changes in the public transportation network. Ataf will have to change the route of two electric buses that service the historic centre, C3 and D.
The situation becomes more difficult along via Tornabuoni, where the routes of the highly used bus lines 6, 11, 36, 37 and T1, which connect the Oltrarno with the historic centre, will have to be modified. Although officials are still studying alternatives, the local press reports that any change in the routes of these buses will slow the current schedules by two to three minutes. Ataf workers, who will strike on May 23 due to the possibility of privatizing the local public transport service, have also theorized that Ataf may even loose passengers from the overhaul to these routes.
Closing via Tornabuoni to all but pedestrians has been met with support from the luxury boutiques along Florence's most famous fashion street. However, says Marco Paoletti from the Le Vie della Moda Committee, the ‘local administration must ensure that people can easily reach the city centre.'
Among the naysayers, local merchants argue that public transportation to the historic centre must be ensured, as do delivery trucks. A group comprised of local professors, architects and art historians has opposed the move, maintaing that buses should be allowed to service these areas to ensure an easy commute to the city centre; they say the small electric buses already in use in the historic centre would be the most suitable solution since they do not pollute. The disabled living in the Pitti and Tornabuoni areas argue they will have a tougher time getting to and from their homes.
Mayor Renzi anticipated fierce opposition to limiting these areas to pedestrians. ‘The future of the historic centre is having more pedestrian areas: it is not possible to go everywhere in your car,' Renzi said in a post on Facebook in early May. Regarding protests to the pedestrian zones, he later told the press: ‘We know about all of the protests, but we are convinced of this decision because we are doing it for Florence.'
That Florence needs more room to breathe is not a new idea, but making these areas pedestrian-only affects merchants, commuters and the disabled. What do you think about the decision to make piazza Santo Spirito, piazza Pitti and via Tornabuoni pedestrian-only? Do you support the city administration's new urban pedestrian plan, or do you think it will present more difficulties doing business, reaching and living in Florence's historic city centre? Send your thoughts to [email protected]