‘Mayors should understand bikes can change our lives’

Sofia lives in Plaka, works in Kifissia (as communications officer for the NGO Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative) and commutes by bicycle every day. «I can’t understand anymore how people put up with being immobile inside a vehicle for so many hours. Or how, even though they could avoid walking and save time by using a bike, they don’t do it.» She thinks Athens could be an ideal city for bicycles: «Distances in the center are short. And the quality of life that Athens can offer compared to other European cities is basically in the life here, the sun, the light. Bicycles are part of that lifestyle. And their wider use would improve the quality of life for everyone, whether they have bikes or not. For me, having a bike is like going on an excursion. I leave work and all of a sudden I’m riding with the wind in my face. I wouldn’t exchange that feeling for anything.» To someone looking on from the outside, Athens seems hostile to bicycles. «It is, but the hard thing is to make a start. I was scared on the first days, but you get used to not being startled when cars crowd you, and to using small roads and back streets.» Sofia believes the city could help promote bicycle use. «It could make a network of cyclist lanes, for example. That’s not easy on main roads; I can’t imagine a cyclists’ lane on Panepistimiou Street, but side roads could be used. And it would be easy for the city to make bikes available at central points, subway stations. Buses are important. There are some distances you can’t cover by bike, but if you reached a certain point by bus you could continue by bike. So it is not unreasonable to ask for special grids on the back of buses to leave our bikes before we board.» What would she like to hear from the aspiring mayors of Athens? «Apart from what they themselves would do to help cyclists, I’d like to see that they understand how good bicycles would be for Athens and how much they could change our lives.» (1) This article first appeared in Kathimerini’s color supplement K on September 10, 2006.