It is said that in the 1970s there was only 600 cars in the whole of Albania. I suppose that all of them belonged to Enver Hoxha and entourage. This is how the main square of Tirana (Skanderbeg square) looked like.
After the fall of the communist regime and the chaotic 1990s, the Albanian economy started to growth very fast. Tirana’s population doubled and its area expanded accordingly.
map by Dorina Pojani, CC BY-SA 2.5
The expected result is that the city is now full of cars. 300,000 of them. The issue is not that many people have now access to private vehicles, but that priority has been given to the improvement of the circulation of these vehicles, in detriment to other modes of transport. In 2015, Tirana must be the only European capital city with neither a train station (closed in September 2013) nor a bus station (long-distance buses depart from empty lots scattered across the city).
How about pedestrians? In 2010, a plan was devised to transform Skanderbeg square into a space “where the bustle and the chaos stops, allowing for something else to happen, whatever it might be“. However the plan was scrapped one year later, so cars are still allowed to use the road circling the square. The space in the middle of the square is pleasant, surrounded by several monuments and important buildings (have I mentioned that this is the heart of Albania?). But to get there pedestrians need to cross that road:
In other parts of central Tirana, the scenario is similar: big roads – many cars – hard life for pedestrians.
As the city grows, new areas are developed and regenerated, and in these areas there is space for building wide roads, with huge roundabouts:
However, not many people will try to walk or cycle across these roundabouts. In most cases, they experience them inside a car, taxi, bus or minibus. The biggest problems for pedestrians in Tirana are probably the minor roads, which have plenty of cars (using them as “rat runs”) and no pavements to seek refuge in.
So at first sight Tirana looks like another example of a “lost opportunity”, a city where economic and urban growth leads to the dominance of the car, as it happened in plenty of other cities in the countries surrounding Albania.
But the purpose of this blog is not to make an inventory of everything that is bad for pedestrians. That would be too easy, as problems can be identified in every city in the world. So the next four posts will describe the positive aspects of walking in Tirana, including recent developments related to the: a) creation of space exclusive for pedestrians; b) reallocation of road space among different types of user; c) social and urban factors maintaining street life in the city centre and sustaining the pressure for decentralizing facilities; and d) renovation of small public spaces and building frontages.