Cycling in Athens? You must be joking

The new slogan in the City of Athens Youth and Sport Organization, «Let’s pave the way for bicycles and protect the environment,» in this particular city sounds like the title of a screenplay for a science-fiction flick at this point in time. Congratulations are due to the 5,000 Athenians who gathered at central Kotzia Square last weekend for their 7-kilometer rally, but cycling from Stadiou Street to Filellinon and from Amalias Avenue up Vassilissis Sofias is most likely a treat they will never again experience, except at such an idyllic event, which essentially symbolizes an unfulfilled wish. We all know what Greece is like: When we celebrate something like cycling en masse it is almost always due to a mounting sense of collective guilt. Naturally, and as the occasion demanded, the transport minister announced that the government would be constructing the city’s first bicycle lanes in the capital’s largest parks (what parks?) and in the suburbs (which suburbs actually look like suburbs, other than Palaio Psychico?). For his part, the mayor of Athens talked about the benefits of the bicycle rally for society. Everyone, however, forgot to mention just how utopian it all is. Athens does not care for cyclists, that much is obvious. And what can it possibly do? They will be swatted like flies in the midst of this city’s astonishing traffic landscape, with its weaving, dangerous overtaking and overall lack of respect for anyone and anything on foot or on two wheels. Cyclists, like pedestrians, are seen as an exotic species in this city as it rapidly develops into the Los Angeles of Europe. Athenians drive their cars to the supermarket, to school, to work, even to the baker’s just down the road. Do parents still buy their children bikes? And then what? Do they punish them by making them ride the bike on a tiny balcony, like a wild beast in a cage? Meanwhile, two days before the bicycle rally, fuel truck owners also had their day on the streets as they parked their vehicles at key points of the city – such as the Metamorphosis exit for the Athens-Corinth highway or along the Athens-Lamia highway. These trucks, belonging to local and foreign companies, illustrated with their blockade that the strongest (and biggest) will win the battle for survival in a city as congested as Athens. So, when Athens does eventually get those parks we heard about, when sidewalks are made safe for pedestrians in the suburbs and when drivers begin to show even the slightest respect for the traffic code, then maybe bicycle lanes in Athens will not sound like such a joke.