Walking, not driving, inspires a city’s identity

Walking is an efficient way of covering short distances, which is what most downtown trips entail. A survey by the National Technical University throughout Athens found that the average car journey is just 7.1 kilometers, while the average trip terminating in many municipalities (Aghia Varvara, Aghios Dimitrios, Galatsi, Dafni, Neo Iraklion, Korydallos, Nea Smyrni, Papagou, Petroupolis and Holargos) is less than 5 kilometers, which means that around 50 percent of car trips are less than 3.5 kilometers. «A lot of those trips can be done on foot without great expenditure of time compared to motorized transport,» said Thanos Vlastos, a transport specialist and town planner and an assistant professor at the National Technical University of Athens. «But when the sidewalk on Alexandras Avenue is 70 centimeters wide, the one on Patission only 50 centimeters, and on Pireos it is non-existent in some places, then what kind of trip are we talking about?» The same survey showed that the average speed (including time spent walking and waiting at the stop or station) is 6.6 kilometers per hour for public transit users, compared to 8.5 kph for car users (including time spent walking to and from the car). The difference is minimal over short distances. «Walking should be the most popular method of getting around,» says Vlastos. «Besides, every trip starts and ends with walking. The great success of stores on pedestrian streets shows that walking is a significant factor in the city’s economic life. It is also bound up with the existence of public space and has great social significance. When conditions discourage walking, the city becomes alien and hostile. It loses the collective identity, which is its substance. It loses public spaces, visitors and residents such as children, the elderly and those who have limited mobility. To a certain extent, it loses all its inhabitants, because just about everyone walks every day. The liveliness of the city and social contact depend on walking.»

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