5th Auto Forum-Introduction to the Theme
According to Google Maps, other cities in our wider neighborhood, such as Constantinople and Cairo, suffer the same problems as Athens regarding traffic: congestion, never-ending bottlenecks, high pollution rates. It is hard to say which of the three cities is in the worst condition (probably Athens), but it is a fact that the other two cities have three times the population of Athens – actually higher than the whole of Greece (15+ million).
The Attica basin has been populated since the ancient times. It is therefore an area where some streets were originally laid according to the geographical layout while others were designed on the basis of the population and economic circumstances of the time when they were built. The development model followed after World War II was proven totally wrong, as it led to over-concentration and extreme urbanization. At a time when other European countries expanded the parks in the centers of their capitals, in Attica more trees were cut off and replaced by concrete. Today, the urban heat island effect has become a real nightmare for the residents of the Attica basin.
Cement absorbs heat and functions as a furnace from May to October. As a result, energy consumption linked to air-conditioning increases disproportionately. Air-conditioning units throw hot air out of the spaces that are being cooled, raising environmental temperature not just locally, but ultimately everywhere. Therefore, they add to the problem they should be mitigating, as they consume more energy to sustain a stable cool atmosphere, which results in a real nightmare, a dead-end! All this is due to the fact that there was no bio-climatic study whatsoever when Athens was being built. Construction works were guided solely by necessity, consequently today multiple problems have arisen; their common denominator is deterioration in quality of life. Attica residents suffer immensely and face worse conditions than people living in any other part of Greece.
However, traffic is an even bigger problem than excessive energy consumption. The existence of crosstown roads in the center of the urban fabric causes terrible jams. Just think of a hall with only one door: would it be possible for everyone inside or outside of it to enter or get out at the same time? Now imagine a ring-road with ten entrances around this hall; this would allow everyone to get to their seats much faster. Highways such as Kifisias, Mesogeion, Filolaou, Katehaki, Kifissos and Vasileos Konstantinou are typical examples of this flawed design. Attiki Odos was built as a peripheral motorway in order to relieve congestion in other major streets, however, it also gets jammed during rush hours. This happens because the number of cars in Athens is three times more than the capacity of the road network. In addition, modifications and budget cuts on the initial plan of Attiki Odos resulted in serious problems in specific parts of it, such as the exit Lamia-Piraeus or the exit of Kifisias with direction towards the airport, causing endless bottlenecks and severe pollution. An illustrative example of this lies in the part of Kifissos highway right after the exit of Attiki Odos towards Piraeus, where there is a traffic island demarcating the road connection to Nea Filadelfeia. This was built in the 1980s, years before Attiki Odos, when there were no more than 850,000 vehicles in the Attica basin. Now, this island creates a narrow part, like the neck of a bottle, where tens of thousands of drivers get stuck every day. Despite all this, the competent officials are reluctant to make the decision to remove the island – another notable instance of the procrastination of state authorities which exacerbates citizens’ predicaments.
Another serious issue is illegal parking. Right lanes of main streets such as Akadimias, Alexandras, Mesogeion, Kifisias as well as most streets in the center of Athens are suffocated by illegally parked vehicles, which hinder the circulation of city buses, supply trucks and other private cars. This causes even more traffic jams, pollution and delays. For Attica basin residents, traffic has become the main problem of their degraded lives. It is estimated that millions of people waste more than 15 minutes every day seeking a parking space, while approximately 14,000 people lose their lives in Greece due to air pollution caused mainly by unending jams combined with the aging fleet: the average age of cars is 17 years and that of trucks is 22 years, placing Greece in one of the last places among the 27 countries of the European Union.
At the same time, around 2 million vehicles do not go through regular checks at Vehicle Road-worthiness Testing Centers. Among them are several hundreds of thousands of vehicles that do not pay road tax fees and/or are uninsured. These vehicles form an illegally circulating fleet which constitutes a time-bomb for road safety and public health, as they stifle the atmosphere and suffocate the streets, increasing risks and costs for law-abiding citizens. If ever there is the necessary political will to apply the legal framework promptly, we will see a decrease in insurance premiums, improvement of air quality and less traffic. Similarly, if legality checks on Vehicle Road-worthiness Testing Centers become stricter, tens of thousands of vehicles will cease circulating.
But is this enough?
Obviously not. In order to save Attica and turn the current dead-end situation around in order to make it a sustainable city, a comprehensive policy approach is needed, which should take into consideration the main problem: the overpopulation of the Attica basin. Further measures that need to be taken are decentralization plans (starting from Ministries and public authorities), promotion of electromobility and micromobility and the creation of low and zero emissions zones; but above all we need to change our habits, mentality and culture, which comes with proper education.
One thing is for sure: in order to transform Attica into a sustainable region in the future, we need to take action following a strict timeline.
- Discouragement of use of private cars in the city center (traffic-ring tax, environmental charges, policing of illegal parking)
- Promotion of micromobility, priority to circulation of pedestrians, public transportation vehicles, scooters and bicycles over cars
- Speed limit from 50km/h to 30km/h
- Development of infrastructure for electrical vehicles charging
- Electrification of taxi fleet
- Renewal of fleet of commercial vehicles (lorries for public use)
- Application of laws regarding compliance to technical specifications, insurance, lawful operation of Vehicle Road-worthiness Testing Centers
- Low or zero emissions zones
- More energy efficient street lighting.
- Expansion of metro network and Attiki Odos
- Policies of decentralization and relocation of Ministries and public authorities
- Tax incentives for relocation of companies and freelancers outside of Attica.
- Only electric vehicles to be allowed in the city center, while circulation of all heat-engine vehicles to be prohibited.