Plan to get Greeks on their bikes

Funds are going to be made available to build bicycle lanes in towns and cities throughout Greece, the government pledged yesterday, in a bid to encourage people to leave their cars at home. Transport Minister Michalis Liapis met yesterday with various local authority representatives, including Grigoris Zaferiopoulos, the mayor of Halandri, one of the few areas in Athens to have a bicycle lane, to discuss how best to encourage local authorities to set aside more space for people on two wheels. Liapis said he would revive a program developed in 2001 to build bicycle lanes in 17 municipalities across Greece. The scheme was never implemented and the minister said that the government would provide part of the funding, with the municipalities putting up the remainder, to build as many bicycle lanes as possible. The minister said that the funding will be in place once the local authorities decide where they want to build bicycle lanes. Apart from Athens, the only other places in Greece that have bicycle lanes are Karditsa, Mesolongi and Larissa. Even Athens, though, is far behind other European cities in terms of offering specialized, protected lanes for people to cycle in. London’s «Cycle Network» provides more than 400 kilometers of bicycle lanes and authorities in the English capital are aiming to extend this to some 900 kilometers by 2010. Paris has more than 340 kilometers of bicycle lanes. The lack of protection and facilities available to cyclists means that few Greeks are willing to take the risk of riding their bikes on the roads. As a result, the use of bicycles in Greece is much lower than in many European cities, including Copenhagen where 34 percent of daily journeys are made by bike. The government had set itself a target of encouraging 50 percent of Athenians to use public transport on a daily basis by next year but it looks unlikely that this will be achieved. Liapis said that the construction of more bicycle lanes would help reduce the number of people using their cars for routine trips.