Tramway brings trouble instead of easing congestion

The Athens tramway project has been implemented in a superficial, uncoordinated fashion. A means of transport intended to ease the city’s traffic congestion will apparently not live up to its promise, because the route it takes will increase congestion downtown and even bring traffic into other places that once were uncrowded. Just a few days ago Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos evicted the tramway from Hadrian’s Arch, ordering that it follow a different route. Apart from the fact that culture ministers don’t usually stipulate new routes for public transport, this could be seen as a positive measure, since the decision was made in order to protect historic monuments. Unfortunately, however, it happened at a very late stage, after the work had already been done to clear a path for the tram, the public had suffered six months’ worth of inconvenience, the rails had been laid, and Transport Minister Christos Verelis had inaugurated the first 900 meters of the tramway. This might be amusing if the public purse had not been drained to the tune of an extra 2.05 million euros, according to the official estimate. The culture minister conveyed the impression that everything was going well and that the cause of the problem was the archaeologically rich subsoil of Amalias Avenue, but that is not quite the full story. The environmental effects study submitted in spring 2001 made it clear that archaeologists should investigate the whole length of the route and make a report before any work began on the tramway. Sources told Kathimerini back in April 2002 that archaeologists from the Third Ephorate of Preclassical and Classical Antiquities who opened trenches on Amalias observed highly significant finds and wrote a report pointing out that «the shock-absorbing carpet that was to be placed along Amalias to protect Hadrian’s Arch practically touched on Roman monuments.» So the tram couldn’t travel through that point, especially when there is reason to believe that the Themistoclean wall goes through that particular area, known as Iosif ton Rogon. And this is where the vicious circle of negligence began. The Culture Ministry downgraded the issue. It said nothing about a different route, but simply made recommendations to the Tram SA company to remove the tramway from Hadrian’s Arch. Work continued and the tramlines were moved down onto the roadway. In late August the transport minister inaugurated the first 900 meters of the line, expressing certainty that «the problems with Hadrian’s Arch will soon be overcome.» But they haven’t been. The result is a new route that hasn’t been thought through any better than its predecessor. While the first route was established without the benefit of archaeological studies, the second was set without any traffic studies. The latest route, which goes up and down Ardittou and Vassilisis Olgas, riles traffic experts; they say the tram has now lost its relative advantage. It will go at the same speed as a car, while dramatically narrowing Ardittou, one of the most important streets in the city center, and necessitating the replanning of traffic movement in this sensitive area. The archaeologists protected Hadrian’s Arch, but who will take care of other areas that are being destroyed? Nea Smyrni, Neos Cosmos and Palaio Faliron have their own problems as a result of the tram route. In New Smyrni, the tramlines go down the middle of Venizelou Avenue, one of the main streets, a 10-meter-wide road which can now carry far less traffic than it did. The sidewalks are being narrowed from 7-9 meters down to 1.5 meters to make room for the displaced traffic lanes. Most important of all, widening the overall road surface to such an extent necessitates anti-flood works, but no provision has been made for them. A committee which was appointed by the Nea Smyrni municipality to monitor the project observed the lack of flood protection measures and requested that provision be made for them. But when the Public Works Ministry was asked to fund the works, it refused. Meanwhile, local business owners and residents claim the tram makes the town center inaccessible, because it cuts the area in two. In Neos Cosmos, Machis Analaton Street is too hilly for the tram, so Tram SA designed a cement ramp which rises as high as two meters at some points, dividing the neighborhood in two. Some arrangement must be made for traffic, because the road can’t be crossed; and so far there is no provision for parking for local residents. Down at Palaio Faliron, the seafront is being destroyed. The seashore sidewalk has shrunk from 7 meters to 2, and the central traffic lane along Poseidonos is disappearing. The inner part of the suburb is also affected, because the tramway along Achilleos Street will narrow sidewalks and attract more cars, which will be channeled into nearby streets, increasing traffic congestion. International experience shows that trams are efficient only if they can carry 2,500-8000 passengers per hour in each direction. But, as Professor P. Miliotis of the Athens University of Economics and Business explained to Kathimerini, even the most optimistic estimates fall short of those figures: «A favorable estimate of the rate of increase shows the maximum number of passengers in 2010 would be 460 passengers per hour in each direction along the whole line from Neo Faliron to Glyfada, and far fewer along the rest of the line from Zappeion to Palaio Faliron. And of course these passengers will come from the urban bus line ETHEL, since many bus lines will be cut out, and it has already been announced that the trolley buses will be removed from the area.» The tram and the Olympic Games Though work on the tram appears to be going full speed ahead, research shows that matters are not so rosy. Fani Palli-Petralia, head of New Democracy’s department dealing with the Olympic Games, told Kathimerini: «The tramway has a capacity of 10,000 passengers per hour in each direction. But the southern Olympic installations, which are supposed to be served by the tram, will have 250,000 visitors during peak hours. The Olympic venues at Hellenikon alone will have 140,000 people at rush hour. «The official 2004 report on public transport for the 17 days of the Games estimates that the average number of day trips will be 330,000, divided as follows: 45 percent will travel by Metro and the electric train, 40 percent by bus and just 9 percent by the suburban train and tram,» she says. Palli-Petralia also raises questions about the completion date for the tramway. «There has already been a big delay,» she says, «in organizing competitions for construction of infrastructure and rolling stock supply, while the routes are being redesigned. International experience shows that a tramway of similar length was constructed in 32 months, and that was a record. In Greece it’s going to be built in 22 months!»