Athens-Piraeus in an hour and 40 minutes

Athenians are well accustomed to seeing heavy peak-hour traffic on Kifissias, Mesogeion, Kifissou, Kymis and Marathonos avenues, but work being carried out on several sections of these main thoroughfares has turned them into bottlenecks that are blocking traffic from bordering districts. Environment and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou has asked commuters to be patient until the end of 2003, when most of the projects will be complete, but one wonders if patience will be enough, or whether there are more constructive steps the State could take. According to Giorgos Yiannis, president of the Greek Transport Experts Association, traffic movement is affected by the fact that not enough adjustments have been made around these work sites, and that the measures taken actually favor the movement of private cars at the expense of public transport. Kathimerini recently took a tour of these major routes, timed the journeys and saw that distances of a kilometer often took over 15 minutes. Putting together all the routes from Kifissias, Mesogeion and Kifissou avenues, a distance of approximately 9.5 kilometers took one hour and 40 minutes to cover. Traffic experts estimate that traffic along the major routes into the city has increased by 50 percent due to the roadworks currently under way and as much as 75 percent on side streets. Since it is impossible not to carry out improvements to the city’s roads, perhaps it is Athenians’ fault for insisting on taking their cars everywhere, even under such difficult conditions. «It is superficial to put all the blame solely on drivers who won’t use public transport,» said Yiannis. «I believe that Athenians are quite adaptable to alternative solutions as long as these alternatives are dependable and fast. Unfortunately, they rarely are. For example, someone could ask why people are not using public transport since bus lanes are now strictly monitored on Mesogeion Avenue and buses are moving faster, but they prefer to go more slowly in the other lanes in their own cars. Obviously the buses are going faster on Mesogeion; but what happens before they get out onto the avenue, or once they get off it into the center of the city? The total traveling time is no less, but it is simply distributed differently, because sooner or later the buses will be held up. There is no acceptable standard of service on public transport,» he said. Yiannis believes that the State virtually encourages bad commuting habits by allowing drivers to park anywhere in the city center, for example, and not cracking down on illegal parking. «If you want to encourage people to use public transport to come into the center, first you have to improve the services and secondly you have to implement counter-incentives for the use of private cars. For example, in Britain there is a law banning the provision of even one parking place in any new building in the center of London. Measures such as these – third-generation measures, effectively – are light years away from Greece, which is barely implementing first-generation measures such as controlled parking.» Wrong priorities However, if we imagine that none of these things will happen and that we will have to continue as we are – with our problems and our works in progress – Yiannis claims that in fact there are ways to relieve traffic on these arteries. «We have to devote some time to study in order to make any adjustments at these points as effective as possible. Traffic police are often brought in as an emergency measure and make more of a visual impression than a difference to the traffic flow, since they usually focus on one artery and ‘forget’ about another, so the total traveling time is the same,» said Yiannis. In other words, the time one saves traveling faster on a main road is lost either before one gets onto it or after one turns off it. «The problem is that even with these adjustments, private cars are given priority over public transport. The first thing done away with when roadworks begin is the bus lane. Then time and personnel are wasted directing traffic on the intersections under construction, which might increase speed by only 5 percent, while if traffic police stand before or after the intersections, preventing drivers from stopping or parking in the right-hand lanes, which are usually bus lanes, traffic speed could increase by up to 40 percent. «So we choose to serve private cars that can only carry 750 passengers per hour and blatantly ignore buses that carry 5,000 passengers per hour.»