Can Athens become a bicycle-friendly city?

Contrary to many other European capitals, Athens lags behind in infrastructure, mindset, and education. Can this be reversed, and in what ways?

But not Greece – and certainly not Athens.

“Bicycle traffic in all Greek cities except a few, like Trikala and Larissa, is very, very low, because on the one hand there is no infrastructure for cyclists and on the other hand there are not enough cyclists for infrastructure. Therefore, we are in an early and hybrid stages of development” says George Yannis, a Professor in traffic and safety engineering and director of the Department of Transportation Planning and Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA).

However, the experts with whom “Κ” spoke agreed that this can be overturned. The prerequisites exist, the studies exist. What is needed is political will and a change in mentality.

What do we mean when we say “bicycle path”?

In the term “bicycle path“, most people imagine a road excluded from any other traffic, with special signage and a surface different in color from asphalt, where bicycles circulate exclusively and unobstructed. It is not exactly a misunderstanding, but a concept that in modern cities is neither feasible nor sustainable. According to experts, a bicycle path refers to a network with sections of mixed traffic and other sections exclusively for bicycles, serving citizens not only for recreation but also practically, enabling them to run errands or commute to work.

The Athens does not differ from other European cities. Transportation engineers, including here at NTUA, have studied a comprehensive network of bicycle paths,” says Prof. Yannis. “Specifically for Athens, we have examined a network covering many kilometers, consisting of various roads. On some roads, one lane will be converted from car to bicycle use. On other major routes, bicycles will initially be allowed to use the bus lane. On some secondary roads, only bicycles will circulate and residents will enter with their cars only to park. Meanwhile, on some other roads, we will have mixed traffic  with striping for cyclists, as seen in other European cities. Therefore, what we are discussing is entirely feasible. It just requires citizens to change their habits and realize that lives lost in road crashes today, as well as the environmental burden from private car pollution, have the bicycle as the only solution.”

How do bicycles get around in Athens?

According to Greece’s Traffic Code, cyclists use bicycle lanes where they exist and, where they don’t, are required to use the right-hand lane of the street on all roads, except on highways and expressways, where they are prohibited.

“The only prohibition is on highways like Kifissos and Attiki Odos. On the rest of the network they circulate normally, like motorcycles and scooters,” Prof. Yannis explains.

Are bicycles a burden on the city’s traffic system?

Experts say no. On the contrary, they are the solution to the traffic problem.

“If a car finds itself behind a cyclist and is delayed for a few seconds, both will stop at the next traffic light anyway. There is no issue of inconvenience“, notes Prof. Yannis. ” If anything is encumbering the city, it’s motorized traffic, not bicycles. The motor vehicle burdens the city with exhaust fumes, congestion and crashes. We have to understand that the space taken up by a car with a single driver, even if they have a passenger or two, can easily be used by 10 bicycles. In other words, the ratio we gain in service is huge. As long as we change attitudes, of course.”

He explains that many metropolises around the world now leading by example in cycling, were also ignorant of its benefits not so long ago.

“Twenty years ago, there were many cities in Europe that had no bicycles at all, just like Athens. However, with years of effort, they developed a cycling culture and now have a considerable number of cyclists, redefining the space, of course. It is no longer designed only for cars but designed in some areas only for cars, elsewhere only for bicycles, in other areas for shared traffic,” emphasizes the Professor. “In Athens, we lack infrastructure for cyclists, resulting in them mixing with traffic, which is dangerous for cyclists themselves,” he adds.

Are bicycles “invisible”?

The argument that the bicycle crashes will increase if the number of cyclists increases, is debunked by the science, experts argue.

“International studies have shown that the larger the bicycle network and the more cyclists on the roads, the fewer crashes and serious incidents there are,” says Prof. Yannis.

So, can Athens become a bicycle-friendly city?

Experts agree that Athens not only can, but is also the ideal city for cycling, due to its relatively good weather and, despite having seven hills, its geomorphology.

“Athens is the ideal city for cycling,” adds Prof. Yannis. ” We have such good weather, so many days of sunshine. In Amsterdam and Copenhagen, it rains all the time and here we complain,” he notes.

More bicycles means more leverage

The number of cyclists on the streets of Athens has risen significantly in recent years, putting pressure on municipal authorities and the central government to develop and implement more Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs).

But have any steps actually been taken?

Some local governments have made leaps, like in Larissa, central Greece, which the experts describe as a shining example.

In the Greek capital, certain suburbs, like Vrilissia and Kifissia in the north, have developed decent bicycle networks. Agioi Anargyroi, also in the north, has a bicycle path too, while Glyfada on the southern coast is planning one.

Article in Kathimerini.gr newspaper in January 2024

 

By | 2024-02-28T15:28:17+00:00 January 3rd, 2024|Categories: General|

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