Still too few Greeks willing to ditch polluting cars and get on their bikes, maybe for good reason

At a time when environmental conditions in Athens and other cities are having a negative impact on the quality of life and public health, the use of bicycles would be a clean solution for urban transport. A new guide to planning and evaluating bicycle paths, written by National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) academics Thanos Vlastos, Nikos Barbobopoulos and Dimitris Milakis and published by the Technical Chamber of Greece, demonstrates the potential. Greece currently has the second-lowest rate of bicycle use in the European Union, with a mere 1 percent of the population using bicycles, compared with countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Belgium, where 10-27 percent of the population cycle every day. «Cycling is bound up with living freely in the city and independent transport,» explained Vlastos. «Policies aimed at improving air quality, curbing noise, reducing speed and traffic congestion, regaining public space and upgrading the appearance of roads concern us all.» He believes that things are starting to move in the right direction in Greece: «More and more municipalities are expressing an interest in bicycle paths.» Perhaps the biggest stumbling block in Greek cities is the question of how much space should be designated for use by cyclists. It is a space beside the sidewalk that will have to be taken away from motorists. «In the past,» said Vlastos, «motor vehicles were associated with freedom and independent transport, but they are no longer compatible with cities. Historic cities don’t have room for cars; modern ones cannot easily incorporate even limited use of cars.» And he pointed out that, since there is no point in driving if you can’t drive fast, the 30 km/h limit that is being imposed in European cities «sends a message to residents not to use cars.» In 2001, the Transport Ministry assigned the NTUA a research project to incorporate bicycles into 17 Greek cities (Rhodes, Kos, Corfu, Volos, Karditsa, Larissa, City of Athens, Western Athens, Neo Psychico, Palaio Psychico, Iraklion, Thessaloniki, Patras, Amaliada, Tripolis, Mesolongi and Lamia). The project reached completion in late 2003, and municipalities received studies with specific solutions for setting up bicycle paths, which they approved. The ministry planned to fund both the studies and their implementation. Three cities, Karditsa, Larissa and Mesolongi, grasped the opportunity and created several kilometers of cycle paths. The other cities, including the largest ones, did not, presumably out of reluctance to take away road space from cars. There has been no follow-up to the project, However, the NTUA authors note, «Regardless of the Greek administration’s inaction on the prevailing mentality of dependence on automobiles, the subject is being discussed in local communities and that is a reason for optimism.»

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