Athens’s traffic chaos gets back to ‘normal’ now the Games are over

As the last visitors leave town after the end of the Paralympics, Athens is returning to «normal,» with one significant difference, however. The people who live in the city, particularly those who move around the center during the day, have now had the experience of living in a different kind of city, so they have greater demands and expect some order to be brought to what is usually chaos on the streets. The Athens traffic police have been giving the situation some thought, seeking ways to improve traffic conditions in the city center as much as possible and make life easier for pedestrians. Yiannis Mantas, deputy chief of the Athens traffic police, told Kathimerini the intention is to continue with the system used in 2003 which had positive results on traffic flow in the center. The main element of the model was the continual and intensive policing of main roads in the center and zero tolerance for violations, but as of early 2004, conditions eased when most of the force was transferred to security planning for the Olympics. Mantas cited statistics that show that 76,000 pairs of license plates were removed from illegally parked vehicles, tickets were issued for another 96,000 and 1,500 vehicles were towed away. The crackdown did much to free sidewalks of parked vehicles and double-parked cars on roads that obstructed the free flow of traffic. The policing of bus lanes by special teams assisted by cameras helped speed up public transport. Meanwhile, a traffic policing program for the inner commercial ring resulted in 2,800 motorcycles being booked for noise pollution, while traffic police units stationed at entry points to the center prevented the entry of large trucks. Another special unit, consisting of 24 motorcyclists, is continually on the move to spot dangerous violations of the traffic code, such as running red lights, speeding, bikers without helmets and motorists without seatbelts. In 2003, this unit registered an average of 4,500 violations a month. A second special unit consisted of five women traffic police officers circulating on motorcycles for special duties, such as accompanying ambulances or other vehicles carrying patients or pregnant women being taken to hospital. According to Mantas, these two latter groups were virtually disbanded for the needs of the Games, but are now set to be re-established.