Auto-mad Athens goes car-free (but it’s only for 24 hours)

With an array of festivities that will include live concerts and games, Athens plans to celebrate today, along with 81 other municipalities across Greece and 800 more cities in 26 European countries, the European Day Without Cars. For a few hours – varying from city to city – cars will be banned from circulating in most of the central part of the city and pedestrians will reclaim the streets, joined by a number of bicycle lovers. In Athens, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., traffic will be banned from the commercial triangle in downtown Athens, including the streets of Evripidou and Sophocleous, as well as the side streets between Pireos, Stadiou, Amalias, and the roads of Dionysiou Areopagitou and Apostolou Pavlou. Stadiou Street will remain closed to traffic only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those wishing to visit central Athens today can do so by riding a bike, or take any form of public transportation – including blue buses, trolleys, the electric railway, and the Metro – which today will be charge-free. In an address on Thursday, Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos called on Athenians to come to the center without their car and experience a different Athens, while he noted that this day is not separate from the city’s preparations for the Olympic Games of 2004. Then it will not be just one day that Athens will function with fewer cars, but several. The Day Without Cars is a test and more of them should follow, the mayor underscored. The complex nature of urban transport was the message sent by the union of 21 municipalities of the northeastern sector of Athens Prefecture, which in a letter stating its participation to today’s events also calls for discussing the problems of city transport, environmental protection and quality-of-life issues, which are accumulating and call for answers. The Day Without Cars also revives a debate over the pressing problems faced by pedestrians in the capital during the rest of the year. These kinds of days are a good start, but they have no continuity, said Giorgos Giannis, transport expert at the National Metsovio Polytechnic. The conditions for pedestrians in Athens are unacceptable. Parking violations, the takeover of sidewalks and crossing points by cars and motorcycles, as well as roadworks, leave no room to pedestrians, who frequently are forced to take risks by walking in the street. The result is a city that is hostile toward the pedestrian, which makes it undesirable for him to walk in. According to Giannis, another indication of the unfavorable conditions for pedestrian is the continued high level of traffic accidents that claim pedestrian victims. Attica Traffic Police records show that, for the first seven months of 2001, pedestrians were among the victims in as many as 600 road accidents. Traffic congestion is a common site in European cities, he declared. The difference in Athens is that it doesn’t have an organized parking management system and law enforcement. This leads to drivers who are fearless of policing, make traffic violations and force pedestrians into risky and dangerous behavior. This becomes even more apparent from the road accident reports, based on the 600 accidents, in which many (269) involved pedestrians who were walking in the street. In 172 other cases, pedestrians were jaywalking, while in 55 others they were walking on the sidewalk. In only four cases was the accident caused by pedestrians who had crossed against the red light. Public transport proves slow and unpopular One year after the government announced a shift in its focus to issues pertaining to the citizens’ quality of life, a move endorsed by the prime minister, the majority of citizens who use public transportation for their daily movements feel let down by state services. A recent poll conducted by the polling company FOCUS and presented on Thursday by Transport Minister Christos Verelis, shows: *As much as 63 percent of public transport passengers deem that public transport services have not improved since last year, or have even worsened, while only 36.2 percent reckon there has been an improvement in the services offered. *Of those who do not use public transportation who were asked if they were willing to alter their commuting habits if services improved, over half of them (56.6 percent) declared that even then they would not opt for public transportation. Of those, 33.7 percent did not even want to discuss the possibility of getting on a bus, while only 22.9 percent appear to entertain the option. On the other hand, 43.5 percent appear to be seriously considering such a change and leaving their car at home. Approximately half of those polled, though, cited slow speed and slow traffic as disincentives for the use of public transportation. It is noted that the average speed of blue urban buses has dropped to 12-14 kilometers per hour from the previous 20 km a decade ago, while during peak hours they may slow down to 4 km per hour. The transport minister, in a drive to implement more efficient measures and make public transport passenger-friendly, has announced the creation of additional bus lanes of a total length of 45 kilometers, which by the end of 2003 will have reached the total of 100 kilometers. ARISTEA BOUGATSOU The participants A total of 82 municipalities across the country will participate in this year’s Day Without Cars, of whom 29 are in the Greater Attica area and 53 are in the rest of Greece. In the Attica Prefecture, participants are Aghioi Anargyroi, Aghios Ioannis Rendi, Aghia Paraskevi, Aegaleo, Athens, Vrilissia, Galatsi, Drapetsona, Zografou, Iraklion, Kallithea, Kifissia, Korydallos, Maroussi, Melissia, Metamorphosis, Nea Erythraia, Nea Ionia, Nea Pendeli, Neo Psychico, Nikaia, Papagou, Piraeus, Peristeri, Pefki, Filothei, Halandri and Holargos.

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