Attentive readers will hopefully remember that, way back in 2013, I flew to Athens with Reggie (the bike) with the intention of cycling from Cape Sounio in Greece to Cape St. Vincent in Portugal, following the coast of the Mediterranean, as later recounted in Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie. Before setting off, I had arranged to meet local cyclist and journalist Manos Charalampakis. He provided a great introduction to the Greek capital and I have fond memories of the evening I spent with Manos, his girlfriend Katerina and the people of Athens…
Manos works for a newspaper in Athens and, amongst other things, he often writes about cycling. Indeed he writes a blog for the newspaper’s website and earlier this week he got in touch with a few thoughts about being a cyclist in Athens. Over to you Manos!
Μy bike routine in Athens
Hello, from the endless quarantine in Athens!
If you wonder how it is like to be a cyclist in Athens, how it is to commute by bike I am here to inform you. I bike almost every day from Patissia (a neighbourhood of Athens) to the Centre. Therefore my daily bike routine is a good “barometer” about how it is to get around by bike.
Unlike most big European cities (and most of the big European capitals), Athens is not a friendly city for bike and biking. Even in Covid-19 period few things have changed.
The Panepistimiou paradox bike lane
In many cities all over Europe and all over the world we all have noticed pop-up bike lanes, new bike infrastructure during the during the Pandemic.
In Athens, the local council has built a bike lane in the “heart” of the city-centre, in Panepistimiou St. But it is going nowhere (“going nowhere” like Therapy were singing back in ’90’s, oh my God I am too old). This 900 meters bike lane starts from Omonia Square and ends just a few meters from Syntagma Square. But if you want to get in the bike lane from Syntagma is a little bit difficult because at this point the bike lane is somehow fenced with flower pots. You have to bike on the pavement and then you can get into the bike lane. A real mess. An Athenian…chaos!
And if you cycle from Omonia to Syntagma using the bike lane, just a few meters before Syntagma you realise that the bike lane is…a dead end! My photo from this point explains what I mean.
Of course a bike lane is something good for Athens. But there has been a lot of criticism for the fact that this bike lane is not connected to other bike lanes. And apart from that, the municipality of Athens has not made any improvements to the bike lane since June, when it was built. Unfortunately the municipal authority did not listen to the calls of citizens and cyclists to make improvements.
And of course almost every day you can see a car which has parked temporarily in the bike lane…Even the police cars (in Athens the protests and riots are very common) are parked there.
Every day bike routine in Athens
What about the other streets in Athens? In most of them there are no bike lanes. In this way, cyclists, I mean people who commute by bike have no choice but to cycle on avenues with heavy traffic between cars buses, trucks.
This is what I do every day in Patission Avenue. I have to bike at the right lane, where there is a bus lane. But very often this bus lane is full of illegally parked cars. And the bike is trapped between parked cars from one side and buses and cars to the other. It is a continuous slalom! It is obvious in the photos.
This situation is seen in most streets of Athens.
But we do not give up! We still bike! I still bike!
Despite all these disappointing situations there is a hopeful point. During the pandemic, thousands of people here in Athens, and generally in Greece, have bought new bikes.
We see more people on bikes! More people are using a bike to go to work or just for a ride. But of course cars are the absolute “protagonist” of the streets.
Let’s hope that something is going to change in the future.
Bike lane Gazi-Faliro: A bike oasis in Athens
I have to inform you that in Athens there is a bike lane that I call a bike “Oasis”. It is the bike lane about 11kms length and starts from Gazi (Technopolis) region and via Kallithea, Moschato-Tavros municipalities ends at Faliro, at the beach.
In this bike lane you can see every day, and especially at the weekends, hundreds of people biking. Young, older, mums dads, kids… This is the real value of a bike lane as I have written. A place where everybody can bike safely!
A few days ago, I post a video on my YouTube bike channel with the title “Endless choreography at the Gazi-Faliro bike lane”. I filmed this video because I wanted to show these beautiful images of children, young people, old, families biking!
Greetings from Athens!
Manos Charalampakis, Ορθοπεταλιές
So that’s the good and the bad. It’s a fairly familiar tale, especially to those of us living here in the UK. But what about the beautiful? Well, despite its cycle lane issues, Athens is a spectacular city to visit both on and off a bike, as I discovered at the start of my journey ‘Along The Med…’. This collection of photos from the hot summer of 2013 proves my point: