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Moving towards a tram system for Nicosia

By Poly Pantelides

THE COMMUNICATIONS ministry has called for tenders’ proposals for a feasibility study on a tram network in the greater Nicosia region, Nicosia mayor Constantinos Yiorkadjis said yesterday.

“We believe in the (project’s) potential to offer solutions to the accumulated problems created by the contradictory… way in which Nicosia’s city network has been designed,” Yiorkadjis said this week during a workshop last night on the concept of a Nicosia tram.

“There is no excuse for continuing to endlessly build roads with no strategic planning and without prioritised goals for achieving sustainable growth,” Yiorkadjis said.

Because the communications’ department could not fund the study Nicosia municipality will supply the funds despite its own financial woes, Yiorkadjis said. The study should cost about €250,000 with an option of a further €250,000, if needed. Tenders’ proposals should be in by July 5. The goal is to obtain EU funding from the 2014-2020 period to finance the tram project, Yiorkadjis said.

The mayor added that building a modern, reliable public transport system to encourage long-term growth trumped policies of building roads along the city’s periphery, splitting Nicosia up and encouraging more spending to extend such networks.

The workshop was attended by a number of stakeholders and features speeches from the university of Cyprus’ rector, Constantinos Christofides, a long-time proponent of sustainable development, Yiorkadjis, communications minister Tassos Mitsopoulos and the French ambassador Jean-Luc Florent. It looked at the example of Le Mans in France, a city that is slightly smaller than Nicosia and successfully launched a light rail system in late 2007. Within a short time-span of the system’s inception, authorities observed a 30 per cent drop in car usage, the workshop’s audience was told.

Promoting the Nicosia tram will encourage people to use all kinds of public transport, and encourage new investment driven by increased commercial activity arising by greater mobility and access around the city’s urban areas, Mitsopoulos said.

A related study looking at light-rail connections between Cyprus’ main towns has shown that creating links to Larnaca airport was viable, Mitsopoulos said, adding his ministry was incorporating the project in their strategic planning.

The Nicosia tram network system was considered possibly viable in a pre-feasibility study as part of a 2010 Integrated Mobility Plan, Nicosia municipality’s town planning official and head of the municipality’s European affairs section, Maria Stavrou said.

The integrated mobility plan looked at the Greater Nicosia Urban Area’s current and projected public transport system, car traffic and parking issues, among others. “Studies show that benefits from a tram system are multiple. It can attract people to urban spots, it can regenerate urban space and encourage economic activity,” Stavrou said.

Trams are attractive and easy to use, carrying the potential to encourage people to use all kinds of public transport.

Alongside an integrated transport system, they can free up space for pedestrians and cyclists, Stavrou said. The project has all the hallmarks of an EU-funded project and has real potential to transform the city, she added.

If the project goes ahead following the feasibility study’s completion, it will link up the urban areas of the greater Nicosia area. This includes municipalities that already have a bike sharing scheme installed: Ayios Dhometios, Strovolos, Aglandjia, Dhali, Latsia, Nicosia and Engomi. A tram network could link these up as well as Kaimakli, Geri, Tseri and Kakatamia.

Looking at a Nicosia city map confirms Yiorkadjis’ statement about road networks splitting up the city.

Though there are distinct bike networks on an east-west axis of the city, there are not yet connected.

The communication ministry’s sustainable mobility department was not given a big enough budget last year to extend the bike lane network however. Meanwhile, Nicosia’s public bus network, extensively overhauled only in 2010, is already struggling and has failed to attract the average Cypriot.

Trams optimise urban space by having a capacity equal to two large buses or 174 cars, are much friendlier to the environment, are accessible, light, quiet and safe, head of the sustainable mobility department Michalis Lambrinos said.

They guarantee a reliable journey time, while fares can be integrated with buses, bike sharing and other systems to encourage the population to embrace public transport, he added. Property values along and near trams tend to rise, Lambrinos said citing among others the example of Ireland’s Dublin that saw between 10 and 20 per cent property premium creation.

In one deprived area in Croydon, UK there was a 35 per cent reduction in the jobless rate after the inception of a tram system, whereas 3,000 permanent jobs were created in Salford Quays, Lambrinos said.

Nicosia is the right size to use trams as the backbone transport system, and just high profile enough to pull people out their cars, Lambrinos said. Importantly, “a reliable transport system is required, particularly for commuting to work,” he added.

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