Transport difficulties in Athens in 2004

The mass return of holidaymakers to Athens marked the beginning of a months-long ordeal that will test the stamina of local residents. Projects under construction for the Olympic Games have transformed the city into a gigantic work site and dozens of changes are affecting major intersections. The coming winter looks like being the toughest winter yet for private car owners; just last week Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou counseled patience. A year before the Games, and following a taste of what is to come from the test events, the organizers advise Athenians to start learning how to do without their cars and get used to public transport and walking. This time next year, getting about by car will be rather complicated. And let’s not forget, the Olympic Games, followed by the Paralympics, will run from August 12 to September 27. During that time, Athenians will not only have to go about their normal business but also leave plenty of room for the athletes, foreign journalists and members of the Olympic Family to move around. The number of bus lanes will double, parking spaces will be drastically reduced, and pedestrians will realize that they cannot walk in a carefree fashion on any road they choose, crossing the road whenever they feel like it. The list of changes may seem long and difficult for private car owners but Athens will have to cope with an extra 500,000 trips being made every day in addition to the current daily average of 1,500,000 trips. The vehicles used by the Olympic Family will have to travel across town at 60-70 kmph, and express city buses at 50 kmph. A stadium that holds 50,000 spectators must be able to fill or empty in one to two hours, forcing the suburban railway, metro, trolley buses and regular buses to operate at maximum capacity. The Athens 2004 Organizing Committee (ATHOC) has prepared an Olympic Transport Strategic Plan to meet the city’s needs for the Games. Fani Dimou-Koutroumba, coordination manager of Athens 2004 Transport Division (GDOM), told Kathimerini: «The Olympic Family will travel in special bus lanes, while other vehicles will be subject to stringent traffic restrictions. According to measurements taken by GDOM, an average of 350,000 spectators and 110,000 members of the Olympic Family will be on the roads every day during the Games. The measures taken will give absolute priority to public transport, and parking will be strictly prohibited along the Olympic ring. Food deliveries and garbage collection in Athens will be better organized and traffic lights will be improved to simplify travel along the city’s main arteries.» Koutroumba expects that the Traffic Supervision and Inspection Center (THEPEK) to play an important part in dealing with traffic. Its tasks will be overseeing traffic in the prefecture of Attica, coordinating all agencies dealing with traffic and handling any emergencies. «The center will have a 300-square-meter space at police headquarters,» says Koutroumba. «It will comprise 130 screens monitoring traffic, 380 cameras placed at crucial points on the roads, 24 electronic billboards to advise motorists on road conditions, 14 operators and 10 representatives of different organizations who will be able to intervene to help deal with any traffic jams they spot. «Most of the traffic will be on Kifissias Avenue in the morning and afternoon, Poseidonos Avenue in the morning, and Kifissou Avenue and the Attiki Odos within the Olympic ring,» explains Koutroumba. Certain events – the marathon, the cycling tour of Athens and the cycling component of the triathlon – will put marked pressure on traffic in the city. Taxis will be allowed to use the traffic lanes allocated to private cars, but will not be permitted to use the bus lanes. «Managing pedestrian flow will be a major problem,» says Koutroumba, «as the stadiums have to empty in one or two hours at the most. So 50,000 people will have to come and go in a very organized way. This is why we suggest they walk along special one-way corridors in each direction which will be connected to public transport termini.» Estimates have been made of the number of pedestrians arriving per hour at the Olympic Stadium and the Peace and Friendship Stadium and the gates they will enter the stadiums from have been chosen. Special signals along the corridors will regulate flow.

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