On Sunday, May 11, Athenian cyclists rode through the capital’s center calling for a city that will make space for every bike and pedestrian while reducing the space given over to cars. The campaign was part of an ongoing nationwide effort that this year included at least 40 Greek cities.
“Mayors change, claims remain,” was the slogan of the ride, which came during the peak of the pre-election period ahead of local and European polls. “It was not our intention. We always organize the bicycle ride at the beginning of May. This year it just happened to come around the time of the local elections,” Lydia Hatzialexiou, a Cyclists Initiative member and coordinator of the Panhellenic drive, told Kathimerini. Though accidental, the timing of the initiative may help put the issue on the pre-election agenda.
“Even though bicycle use has increased in Greece in recent years, the situation has not changed in terms of the state’s reaction to our requests,” added Hatzialexiou. “The same scenario has been playing out for years now: pre-election proclamations in favor of bicycles and then bikes being relegated back to the sidelines and becoming window displays after the election. However, we remain adamant in our claims for what ought to be obvious.”
What’s obvious is that cyclists should be safe riding on the streets and that for this to happen initiatives have to be taken in terms of creating the infrastructure, educating the public and improving the highway code.
“We try to contribute to making sure that bicycle lanes are constructed to the right specifications by participating in discussions at the Transport Ministry. The problem is that many forms of bicycle infrastructure that have been constructed so far have costed more than they needed to, have been done badly and are all over the place,” said Hatzialexiou.
The activists also stress the importance of educating the public, especially children, on using a bicycle and getting around bike-friendly cities, as well as ensuring that cyclists are also aware of their obligations (such as making their presence clear with lights and reflectors and abiding by the highway code).
Bicycles are allowed on most modes of public transportation in Athens. However, only four or five bicycles are allowed on each metro or ISAP train. As for buses, it depends on the driver.
“It is completely incomprehensible that the state does nothing to help increase the use of bicycles in a country with a climate as warm as Greece. The mass use of bicycles is good for our health, economy and the environment, forming sustainable cities for everyone,” stressed Hatzialexiou.