Cars halted by rainfall as Athens traffic woes mount

Early rainfall yesterday caused serious problems across Athens, as cars were brought almost to a standstill on major highways in a reminder of the city’s worsening traffic problems. Traffic police said that cars traveled at 3-4 kilometers an hour on the capital’s major arteries, such as Syngrou Avenue, during peak hour traffic between 7 and 9.30 a.m. «Where can we redirect traffic when there are no more empty roads?» said a senior traffic police officer. An estimated 150,000 cars are added to Athens roads each year as the majority of local residents prefer to get around with their own vehicles rather than on public transport. Traffic experts have been proposing methods to ease traffic problems, however, the government appears reluctant to adopt more radical measures. Yiannis Polyzos, head of the Urban Environment Laboratory at the National Technical University of Athens, told Kathimerini that Athens needs to follow the example set by other European cities, such as encouraging cycling or setting up tolls around the city center. «Whether we like it or not, Europe is moving in the direction of cities operating without cars or with a minimal use of cars,» he said. Recently adopted measures aimed at easing traffic congestion, such as restricting free parking in the city, have had a limited impact. The government has said that it is examining extending the operating hours of the metro, the city’s most popular form of transport, on weekends but has yet to make a final decision. «If the measures taken are correct, then people in Athens will embrace them, just as they did with the metro,» added Polyzos. Athens public transport network has been growing in the last few years; however, six in 10 commuters still get around every day using their own form of transport, either by car or motorcycle. Other recommended measures put forth by experts include introducing «smart» traffic lights, able to adjust stop signals depending on prevailing conditions and extending parking restrictions to the outer suburbs which are expected to soon experience their own traffic problems.