Nothing seems to frighten our government more than a confrontation with an interest group, as it seems incapable of uttering the word ‘no’. It would rather rescind decisions taken by the council of ministers and scrap plans that cost the taxpayer millions in fees and man-hours to formulate than face the anger of a few dozen people.
This timidity has been displayed in the case of the proposed traffic island on Nicos and Despina Pattichis Street in Limassol, which the shopkeepers have been opposing on the grounds that it would drive away customers. They have held several protest gatherings in the last few weeks but the government stayed resolute, with construction work scheduled to have begun on Monday.
The shopkeepers, however, said they would destroy any work done on the road and their threat worked. Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos put off the start of work so he could meet the representatives of the shopkeepers on Wednesday, saying he had been asked to meet them and listen to their views by the legislature. Perhaps Karousos felt he should listen to the protesters out of courtesy because there is no compromise on offer.
This is pretty much a zero-sum game – either the traffic island is built, or it is not. There is no middle way. The government had decided a traffic island was needed to make the street safer – the minister had said some 700 traffic accidents had taken place on this road. What could the shopkeepers tell him at their meeting to persuade him that the road does not need to be made safer? Should their business interests, which they claim would be dealt a big blow, be put above road safety?
It is time shopkeepers were made to understand that the old practice of a driver being able to park outside a shop is over. Town roads need to be made safer for pedestrians and drivers by building pavements everywhere and traffic islands where it is deemed necessary. Shops exist and flourish on countless town roads that have no parking space; people park their cars a few hundred metres away and walk to the shops.
This is part of city-living, something the government must make clear to shopkeepers. Karousos should have refused to see the shopkeepers and told them any attempt to destroy the traffic island or prevent workers from doing their job would lead to arrests. Laws have to be obeyed. The problem is that this government went back to the drawing board and drastically changed its plans for Tseri Avenue when shopkeepers there objected to plans for a four-lane road because it would negatively affect their business.
Can it now refuse to budge, given its past record? We hope so.