Dangers on the sidewalks of Athens

Athens drivers and motorcyclists joke that there are two types of pedestrian, «the quick and the dead.» They don’t really mean it, yet every day that goes by proves that the comment contains more than a grain of truth. Any doubt on the subject vanished the Thursday before Easter with the news that Io Zervoudaki, an archaeologist of international stature, had been knocked down and killed by a motorbike while walking along pedestrianized Tositsa Street in downtown Athens. Pedestrians in Greece need lightning reflexes in order to survive. A walk around the city center soon reveals that signs prohibiting vehicles in pedestrian zones are merely there for decoration. Impunity The sidewalks are constantly invaded by cars and motorbikes, which use them as short cuts or parking spaces. «There is complete impunity,» Elsa Tsekoura, president of pedestrians’ rights organization Pezi, told Kathimerini. «You try to walk on a sidewalk or in a pedestrian zone, and not only do you have to dodge the motorbikes, but you also get sworn at if you happen to protest. They consider it their right, you see?» Who will stop them? «Nobody,» Athens Deputy Mayor Andreas Papadakis told Kathimerini. «This all goes on in full view of the police.» «But can’t you see them?» you ask. «Why don’t you stop them?» «Even if I give them a ticket, they’ll get it erased from their records,» they answer cynically. The situation is completely out of control. Sidewalks seem to be the black hole in the highway code, the only parts of the city that are not under anyone’s control. While the Traffic Police point a finger at the Municipal Police, saying, «We watch the roads, not the sidewalks,» the local authorities say that it is not their job to deal with any traffic offenses on sidewalks except for illegal parking. «Anything that moves is the job of the Traffic Police,» they say. «Already over the past three months, by order of the mayor, we have issued fines for every motorbike parked on a sidewalk or in a pedestrian zone, especially those blocking ramps for people with disabilities and special zones for the blind,» said Papadakis. Over the past six months, the Municipal Police have issued 15,000 fines for illegally parked motorcycles. Motorcyclists readily admit driving off the road. «In all the years I’ve had a motorbike, nobody has ever stopped me and fined me,» Angleos Bavelas, vice president of the European Motorcycle Federation, admitted frankly. «And that’s because the authorities in Greece don’t pay attention to offenses that cause accidents – running stop signs, driving on the wrong side of the road, going though red lights or driving on sidewalks. They confine themselves to issuing fines for not wearing a helmet and parking illegally, which don’t cause accidents. And why is that? It’s simple. To make money to fund local government bodies.» But drivers are also to blame, as Bavelas pointed out: «There is a general lack of education for drivers. We’ve spent millions on setting up so many driver training parks and then just let them become hangouts for drug users.»