Athens: Cars, Cars and More Cars

Americans have a reputation as car-loving people. I would rephrase that. Americans don’t love their cars. They need their cars. They use and abuse them. They don’t love them with passion like, say, the Italians or Greeks. Where else do you see men lovingly polish their old Fiats on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Most Americans wouldn’t treat a Porsche with such affection.

I just got back from Athens last week. The car-inspired street fight aside, I was generally surprised what a car-culture Athens is. Everybody drives and parks wherever they want. There are hardly any sidewalks or pedestrian zones, let alone parks. You certainly don’t feel welcome or safe as a pedestrian. If you ask me, it is a mistake that they accommodate drivers so generously.

This NY Times article talks about some of the civic groups trying to fight back by placing stickers on illegally-parked vehicles that the police seem to ignore. They also point out that Athens has the highest per-capita car ownership in the European Union: 450 registered cars per 1000 residents, which is close to the US-level of car ownership. Of course, Greece is a lot more congested than the US…hence the gridlock. Yet, their public transportation is great. I don’t get it…