Getting Greeks on bikes

Do Greece’s crowded cities have room for bicycles? And are Greeks willing to cycle instead of driving? Although the Greek government has done absolutely nothing to encourage cycling, one Greek city has set an encouraging example: A recent study showed that the percentage of people using bicycles in Karditsa, northern Greece, is the same as that of Amsterdam, and almost equal to the number of people using cars. By contrast, in Athens and Thessaloniki, where it is in the interests of the state to promote cycling, nothing has been done to tackle the issue. While in many European cities more and more people are starting to use bicycles as preferable transportation to cars, in Greece, with the exception of Karditsa, cyclists are treated with hostility, and not only when they are on the road. They aren’t even allowed to take their bicycles on the metro, unlike in other European cities. But discussion about the role of bicycles in Greek cities has begun. One contribution comes from a new book, «Podilato: Odigos schediasmou kai axiologisis diktyon» (Bicyle: Guide to Planning and Evaluating Road Networks) by Thanos Vlastos, Nikos Barbopoulos-Vlantis and Dimitris Milakis, published by the Technical Chamber of Greece. The authors present some typical examples of bicycle use in European countries. In the Netherlands, for instance, which has 13 million bicycles and 15.5 million inhabitants, there is a 10-year national strategy plan for bicycles. In Denmark, where the use of bicycles has been promoted for more than 50 years, they are currently the second most preferred form of urban transport. Although France does not have a national policy on bicycles, Paris recently instituted an impressive system of making bicycles available for a very low fee. The closest Greece gets to Amsterdam is Karditsa, which has created an extensive network of cycle paths in recent years. The result is that the inhabitants of Karditsa now use bicycles for 22 percent of their trips into the city, and their cars for only 27 percent. Bicycles are widely used by children, students, women and pensioners. Can other Greek cities learn a lesson from the experience of Karditsa? The authors of the guide believe they can. But a study by Vlastos on incorporating bicycle use into Athens has been gathering dust for years at the ministries of Transport and Public Works. «For municipal authorities and governments, the problem is the space needed for bicycles, which has to be taken away from cars,» comment the authors of the guide. «Politicians don’t have to persuade people to use bicycles but that they need a new, more modern city.»

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