Christou: If you build facilities for cars, you will have more cars. If you do it for pedestrians, you will have more pedestrians. In Limassol, we have more cars than people
By Bejay Browne and Angelos Anastasiou
A LONG-TERM plan to reduce Limassol’s traffic congestion and make the city friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists is in the works, following efforts by the municipality to discourage car use in the city centre, mayor Andreas Christou told the Sunday Mail.
Reflecting on his achievements in office, the former minister and parliamentarian singled out the conscious drive to push cars out. “We tried to give cars less of a chance to enter the old town,” he said in an interview.
“We tried to close it down to cars – not fully, just to make the life of car-drivers difficult. We closed some roads completely, and introduced squares and places for pedestrians. We provided facilities for cyclists, to use their bicycles as much as they can. We tried to give drivers other options in approaching the main destinations, without necessarily having to come through the city centre.”
But this, Christou added is only part of it.
“The public works Department is currently studying a new plan for the whole city, from Ypsonas to Moni – with, of course, a special study for the city centre – for the next 20 years, which will further provide facilities for pedestrians and less facilities for cars,” he explained.
The idea is simple – if not simplistic.
“If you build facilities for cars, you will have more cars. If you do it for pedestrians, you will have more pedestrians. In Limassol, we have more cars than people,” said Christou.
Elected mayor for the first time in 2006, Christou oversaw the radical growth and transformation of Limassol into a multi-cultural business and tourism hub, with projects both small and grand cropping up seemingly everywhere even as Cyprus was mired in economic recession. The key driver, he said, was EU funding.
“To develop further, Limassol, as a city of international business, as an international community, a cosmopolitan city, a city where the environment will be friendly to newcomers, either to live here or to set up a business, has to make a full use of the European funds, which started to be provided to the local authorities just when I came here in 2007,” he explained.
“There are two different lines of funding – the one passing through the governmental authorities (we were given something like €60 million to regenerate the centre of the city and some areas near the sea), and the other, the ‘competitive’ programmes, which are running everywhere, every day, hundreds of them. We took less money from that direction, but we were able to make many small things. In services, in policies, in culture, in social welfare, and so on.”
The fact that Limassol appears to be up and coming is the recent upward trajectory of its skyline as buildings as high as 37 floors are being constructed.
Christou said three to five permits had been given out so far. “But we must study very carefully all of the consequences of these high buildings,” he said, such as fire safety, services such as the provision of water to such large structures, and zoning.
The mayor said a lot of preconditions are set on the construction but he admitted Cyprus has no expertise on tall buildings as regards how things would go “the day after” or if anything went wrong and how it would be dealt with by emergency services. There was the additional problem of neighbouring buildings, Christou said, some of which are suddenly having their sunlight blocked. Back to his issue of about too many cars in the city centre, he said such large buildings would attract more people and more vehicles. That was why they construction would not be allowed just anywhere, he said.
“But taking into consideration the costs and benefits, on balance we cannot prohibit tall buildings, but only within reason,” Christou added. “We don’t want them in an area where thousands of people and cars would accumulate, that is why the ‘day after’ is relatively unknown to us.”
As his second mayoral term draws to a close this December, and with the answer to ‘Will he seek re-election?’ still pending, Christou acknowledged that, when it comes to achieving goals and checking off boxes on the to-do list from the mayor’s chair, there are no lines in the sand.
“There is no end, believe me,” he said with a smile.
“There are always things to do. The mayorship is a kind of relay run. It’s not a 100-metre run. You receive a lot of things from the previous mayor, a lot of projects, you do things, and then you deliver them to the next. There is no end. This is the idea, this is the attraction of being a mayor.”
(Interview conducted by Bejay Browne, writing by Angelos Anastasiou)