New roads built at great expense have met the usual Greek fate of being used as parking lots
Athenians park wherever they find an empty space – on a sidewalk, obstructing pedestrians, or in illegal spots along roadsides, obstructing traffic. After years of planning and promises, we have finally managed to build a few roads at great expense, but the extra lanes were immediately occupied by parked vehicles. The management of parking is a huge problem, to say the least, but none of the previous leaders of the Environment and Public Works Ministry has ever taken drastic steps to resolve it. About 1 million cars circulate in Attica every day, out of a total 2.5 million registered. Most of the remainder are parked on the streets (since there are only 60,000 covered parking places) covering half of the road surface. In the city center’s inner ring, about 100,000 vehicles park during the morning peak hours, yet there are only 35,000 legal parking spaces on the streets. About 40,000 are parked illegally. Over the past two years, around 450,000 parking tickets were issued, and 150,000 cars had their license plates removed. Another 30,000 vehicles were towed away. Still, Athenians don’t give up. Even if caught, they simply pay the fine and do it again anyway. According to Greek traffic experts, illegal parking reduces traffic speed by about 30 percent, and the time wasted annually costs 27 billion drachmas (approx. 79.2 million euros). The vanity that has led Greeks to raise the automobile to the level of a status symbol, combined with the traditional lack of social conscience and the authorities’ chronic inefficiency, have created a city that is almost a continual traffic jam, its drivers on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We like our cars, not as a means of transport but as possessions. When the inner-ring restrictions were introduced in the early 1980s and family incomes began to rise, people began to buy a second family car in order to get around the restrictions. Not much else has been done to improve the quality of life on the roads apart from the metro, the tram (perhaps) and a few new buses. The urban public transport company OASA estimates that four passengers (both seated and standing) can fit in every square meter of bus space, whereas in Europe, it is estimated that each bus can take (apart from the seated passengers) one standing passenger per 1.5 square meters. Along with the traffic jams created by drivers themselves and the inadequate transport network, for which the authorities are to blame, many Greeks refuse to take public transport, which is used by only 33 percent of people moving about the city. Not even the metro has solved any problems, mainly because of its limited range and the complete lack of nearby parking areas. Greece’s urban road network was created without any provision being made for parking. Nor did anyone give much thought to the use and conditions of the roads, or provisions for the future. So apartment buildings went up without any parking places. Even worse, permits were issued for the construction of department stores, nightclubs, multiplex cinemas, ministries and other public services without any thought for where all the people working in and visiting these places would park their cars. So the logical choice for Greek drivers who are so dependent on their cars is to park illegally – via double parking, blocking the verges of main roads, or up on sidewalks. Even when we ourselves rage against all these illegally parked cars blocking our way, a little further on down the road we ourselves are likely to be the cause of someone else’s anger.