In Athens, Greece, cyclists raise their voices for their safety and rights. Authorities return that there is no room in Athens for bicycles. But it’s more correct to say that “there is no more room for cars in Athens - and plenty of room for bicycles!”
The topic of bike lanes is more commonly encountered in mayoral pre-election speeches and future promises than in the actual urban landscape. Today, even though the bicycle is gaining popularity, many are still reluctant towards cycling; most hesitation and suspicion is expressed from various authorities, representing either the government or transport officials (i.e. Athens Metro Company – ΑΜΕΛ).
According to Athen’s urban planning history, the city was designed for less people, and far fewer cars than the two and a half million that are present in the city today. Car use is deeply rooted in Modern Greek state of mind.
The recent rise in gas prices and changes in vehicle taxation acted as the driving force for many people to start thinking about cycling as an alternative and less expensive way of getting around. However, most Athenians will not consider the possibility of biking, and no one can blame them. The current cycling infrastructure is trivial and this is without taking into account the narrow sidewalks and many hills that hinder cycling.
The current bike lane network is far from what we see in bike-friendly cities around the world. Almost fifty kilometres of scattered, short paths, distributed all over Attica’s Municipalities, perfectly describe the inadequate effectiveness with which authorities have responded to the matter. Usually around or inside parks, marinas or university campuses, the longest path at thirteen kilometres can be found in the suburban Municipality of Kifissia. The longest, closest to the centre, is inside National Technical University Campus (NTUA). What is clearly observed is that the existing bike lanes are more likely to be seen as training fields, isolated from each other, and not as a well-organized urban cycling network.
As a matter of fact, a design of a complete bike lane network in Athens was proposed by Professor Thanos Vlastos and his team (NTUA). The design proposed the construction of thirty-six bike lanes, totaling two hundred and thirty kilometers, successfully connecting the centre and suburbs of Athens. The project has been internationally recognized for its excellent design and even awarded with a prize at Velo-City 2013 Vienna Cyclists Convention. Sadly, it is yet to be accepted by the Greek State officials due to the bureaucracy and opposing local interests.
For the time being, those brave cyclists that take to the streets will be seen by drivers as obstacles, and mutual respect will lack between them. Also, as ΑΜΕΛ has forbidden cyclists from riding during rush hour, bikers will be reluctantly allowed into the metro.
Is the urban cycling option available in your city? If so, what are the main advantages and/or drawbacks that boost or discourage bike use?
Credits: Images by Chris Christou or linked to sources. Data linked to sources.