As tourists wandered obliviously on the glass floor of the footbridge, locals proceeded with caution. Venetians made sure to walk on the narrow stone strip at the center, some lifting fogged glasses to keep their eyes on the ground. When a visitor tripped, they barely lifted their gaze.
"That is not a bridge," said Angelo Xalle, 71, a retired port worker who recalled helping people with broken chins or foreheads get up from its sleek floor. "It's a trap."
The bridge, Ponte della Costituzione, by star architect Santiago Calatrava, is a multimillion-dollar work of glass and steel that opened in 2008. Its smooth curve above the Grand Canal, near Venice's train station, was meant to symbolize the city's embrace of modernity, but it has become better known as a stage for ruinous tumbles and dangerous slips.
Now, after years of protests and problems, the city has decided to replace the translucent glass with less slippery — and less glamorous — trachytestone.
"People hurt themselves, and they sue the administration," said Francesca Zaccariotto, Venice's public works official. "We have to intervene."
The city's decision to allocate 500,000 euros, or about $565,000, to replace the bridge's glass section comes after several failed attempts to limit slips with resin and nonslip stickers. Last month, as the winter cold and rains made the floor especially dangerous, officials placed keep-off signs on the glass portion of the bridge, which is most of it.
Acclaimed around the world for work including the World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York, Calatrava was commissioned to design the bridge in 1999. When it opened nine years later, after protests about delays and soaring costs, complaints about falls began quickly.
Protests intensified in 2013, when the city installed a cable car on the bridge to make it more accessible. The red, round cabin — not designed by Calatrava — cost about 1.5 million euros, was slow to cross the bridge and became unbearably hot in the summer. It was later dismantled.
In 2018, the city replaced some of the slabs of glass with trachyte, but during the pandemic, when national television filmed people walking over the bridge to illustrate the return to normalcy after a lockdown, it inevitably caught someone slipping. Last year, the administration gathered the funds to fully replace the glass.
"We can't always do poetry," Zaccariotto said. "We must give security."