NTUA Professor George Yannis explains how to tackle the major traffic congestion problems of Athens. Scientific evidence which is supporting in practice by running 30 marathons in 30 months.
The ultimate goal is to set 30 km/h as the speed limit for as many as possible safer and greener cities. In order to achieve this objective, he will run 1,266 kilometres in 30 months in order to promote 30 km/h speed limits in all cities. The “journey” started in July 2022 and is expected to end in November 2024.
A strange equation which is easily tackled within the discussion with George Yannis who is a Civil Transportation Engineer, Professor and Director of the Department of Transportation Planning and Engineering of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA). In an attempt to convince people for 30 km/h speed limits in cities, he has decided to run 30 marathons in 30 months. And he is already on his 17th, which took place last Sunday in Athens. In fact, he is a persistent runner but also conversationalist. A lesson learned with the discussion with him regarding transportation issues is that you have to be prepared for surprises and positions that reveal the superficial efforts of some politicians to tackle the highly complex traffic problems.
In a recent social media post he states: “The discussion and introduction of 30 km/h city zones faces strong reactions and rigid inertia, whereas supporters’ voices are weak and inefficient resulting in hesitant politicians and Authorities. That is the reason why I decided to step beyond the continuous scientific pleas and promote more actively the 30 km/h city through my challenge of running 30 marathons in 30 months. Scientific evidence so far demonstrates that more than 40% of lives are saved with the introduction of large zones of 30km/h speed limit; in parallel to significant environmental, energy and health impacts with less fuel consumption and more walking and cycling”.
The dictatorship of passenger cars
His opinion is that “Athens is collapsing in terms of traffic. With the current situation in Athens, the transport problem can be tackled, the traffic problem not”. As he highlights speaking to Vima – Science, “in order to reach some solution, priority should be given to serving travellers and not vehicles. “What will happen in Kifissos Urban Highway?” is the wrong question. The correct question is “How to serve those who have to move via Kifissos”. Complaints about traffic are being made by the guilty passenger car drivers”. As he told us, one solution could be to develop a left bus lane in Kifissos; from north to the coast and vice versa, with one or two stops in between and lots of buses.
With regards to Vassilissis Olgas Avenue, he admits that it is a local issue. He even corrects those who say that “this road has been closed”. In his opinion, Vassilissis Olgas Avenue was opened for pedestrians (and closed for cars). It is also inappropriate to say that it could become a low traffic road. If it is designed to serve important traffic volumes, it will act as a central artery. We only have low traffic roads in residential and commercial areas. Otherwise, it is like trying to drink coffee with a fork (!)
The centre of Athens, however, is inexplicably overloaded with so many passenger cars and pass-through traffic. This priority attributed to passenger cars must change. Like any other measure, at the beginning it will be difficult; but then, as it has been proven in other cities, traffic will find balance. In his opinion, even with the current potential situation of public transport, it would be possible to improve travellers’ level of service, provided that they are given priority, as time is the main criterion in choosing transport modes. The only requirement is that bus lanes should be functional, extended and supervised for exclusive bus use. But here he points out the great absence of Traffic Police, considering that they have a great share of responsibility for the traffic collapse.
Transportation Engineering is presented as something simply plausible but, in fact, it is a complex science. Therefore, “the examples chosen to be copied in Athens should be carefully selected”. As he highlights: “It is worth making a comparison with other European countries with similar climatic conditions. For instance, Paris ring road is 35 km long with 4 lanes and has been in constant congestion for the last 30 years. As you provide space to cars, it quickly fills up with more cars. But in the centre of Paris, downtown in the Louvre, a 4-lane axis has now 2 large lanes for cyclists and 1 for all other vehicles.” Rome and Lisbon have made significant steps, but Spanish cities have achieved much better mobility conditions as according to his opinion, they have politicians who dare to be bold, even limiting vehicles parking space.
Who dares wins?
The issue of daring seems to be something he is particularly concerned about. For instance, the case of Athens Great Walk was a good start. It was short in length but that is how everything starts. Gradually and within a 15-year period, he believes that the walkways and cycle paths will be extended. But at the moment, in his opinion, motorists do not want to change their bad habits, while pedestrians and cyclists are oppressed but they do not claim efficiently their space.
In the remark that he seems to support the “Athens Great Walk”, the answer comes directly: “Two generations of NTUA Transportation Scientists have been working to upgrade transportation in Athens. And we will continue this marathon“.
Article in Vima – Science newspaper in November 2023