Plans for bike paths gained speed but were delayed and then forgotten

The attempt to bring bicycles back into everyday life in Greece initially won the support of the the Interior, Environment and Transport ministries, which made significant sums available to implement projects and studies. However, the plans were put on hold indefinitely. «Studies were in process for the construction of bicycle lanes in 40 municipalities in Greece,» said Thanos Vlastos, a professor at the National Technical University of Athens and a transport expert and town planner. «The attempt came to a halt just when the rest of Europe looks on the bicycle as the most modern solution to transport problems.» Around 3 million euros was spent on making bicycle lanes in the municipalities of Karditsa, Larissa, Mesolongi and Neo Psychico. «That’s a small sum compared to the cost of building roads and infrastructure for cars. But the idea of spending money on bicycle lanes goes against the grain in Greece and anyone who tries to do anything for cyclists will probably annoy people,» Vlastos said. Apart from solving traffic problems, the construction of bicycle lanes has done a great deal to improve the appearance of the four municipalities, upgrading shopping centers and making it easier to get around. Wherever the conditions have been created to make bicycles a key mode of transport, they have also resulted in cleaner air, less noise, a pleasant driving environment, a change of commercial land use, more mobility among residents, more space for pedestrians and more commercial activity. In France, for instance, the most regular customers of the shopping centers are pedestrians and cyclists, since only they have ready access to every part of town. Research there has shown that reshaping the city has brought considerable economic benefits, with visits to shopping centers increasing by 33 percent. It has also shown that motorists are now in the minority as far as spending on shopping is concerned: They spend 87 percent less than pedestrians, 23 percent less than cyclists and 3 percent less than those who travel by public transport. But how realistic is it to talk about creating a network of bicycle lanes in a city that lacks public space? «It is absurd to say that we are attempting to make our cities more livable without implementing policies for bicycles,» said Vlastos. «Athens has narrow streets and it needs means of public transport that take up little space. Instead, roadworks encourage the use of automobiles.» In Athens, for instance, coordinating the use of bicycles as transportation with the public transport system is problematic. For a start, bicycles are not allowed on the metro and few stations have places where cycles can be left without the fear of theft or damage. Also, the management of the Kifissia-Piraeus electric railway has set a number of conditions limiting bicycle use. Cyclists may take their bikes on the train between 9 a.m. and noon and from 6.30 p.m. until the train stops running at around midnight, when there are fewer passengers. The restriction does not apply on weekends. Bicycles are not permitted at Omonia, Monastiraki and Attiki, the stations that connect to the metro.