The sidewalks of Rome, Italy present many accessibility challenges for wheelchair users, primarily due to the heavy use of cobblestone throughout the city. Using this guide to Rome sidewalk accessibility, you’ll gain insights into the “roll-ability” of the Eternal City that will be helpful in plotting an accessible course through the city.
The City of Rome shows its age — with cobblestones. Wheelchair users are in for a bumpy ride, as cobbled streets and sidewalks are around (almost) every corner. While several of the major roadways have tile, cement or asphalt/tarmac pavements that are generally smooth, cobbles still appear on the roadways themselves and often intersect sidewalks at intersections, crosswalks, driveways and alleyway entrances.
Moving along modernized streets and roadways is possible in both manual and powered wheelchairs, however cobblestones are unavoidable as you approach major tourist attractions such as the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Vatican City. These historic areas have maintained the use of cobblestone pavements on streets and sidewalks, and are incredibly difficult to navigate with a wheelchair. As the stones jostled the wheelchair and my body, I got the toughest workout that I’ve had in ages — it was hard work to stay seated upright!
Curb ramps and crosswalks
Curb ramps are widespread in the touristic areas of the city, but every so often you’ll encounter a “dead end” — a sidewalk without a curb cut, which makes reversing course to find an alternate route necessary. On a handful of occasions, I found it more expedient to drive my wheelchair in the street for a short distance.
While not universal, most crosswalks at stoplight-controlled intersections are outfitted with pedestrian signals. Some sidewalks feature tactile surfaces for the blind.
Many curb ramps do offer a barrier-free transition from street to sidewalk, however it is not the norm. Most curb ramps leave wheelchair users to deal with a lip — this barrier can range from half an inch to 1.5 inches in height (1.25 cm to 4 cm). Curbs without a ramp exceed these figures substantially.
Parked cars that block sidewalks and curb ramps
In the most historic parts of the city, vehicles often squeeze into tight spaces and may park on sidewalks or block curb ramps. This presents a challenge and is an example of why I drove my wheelchair on the street multiple times.
Also frustrating are immovable barriers that prevent wheelchairs from accessing a particular sidewalk. Some footpaths are extremely narrow, but that didn’t stop the city from placing signs or lamp posts right in the center of the pavement. Such barriers make the sidewalk’s usable area too narrow for a wheelchair user to pass. Although I didn’t face this too often, it was still frustrating to deal with!
Over the course of my trips to Rome, I’ve rolled tens of miles around the city using my power wheelchair. I’ve journeyed down cobblestone streets and alleyways that had no sidewalks, explored Vatican City, rolled around the Colosseum and more.
I couldn’t help but think that having a power wheelchair was the key to making it work. Had I traveled with a manual wheelchair, my strategy would have been different: I would have used taxis and public transport much more often. My power wheelchair gave me the ability to explore Rome largely as a pedestrian and, if you’re visiting the city, you might consider renting a power wheelchair to more comfortably move along its streets and sidewalks.