In the Old Town pedestrian zone, it is still dangerous to suppose that pedestrians are free to use the whole width of the promenade. At any time throughout the day, it can happen that one feels a car rapidly approaching behind one's back. For some reason, the pedestrian zone attracts powerful vehicles owned by people who are either too lazy or too arrogant to take a five-minute walk to visit a shop or restaurant. They feel an absurd need to demonstrate their financial success by parking their million-crown cars right in front of a building.
This is a blatant violation of the traffic laws for the pedestrian zone, which have been crystal-clear since being approved in 1996 by the Old Town district council. Cars are permitted to enter the zone and park on the streets only between 22:00 and 9:00. During this time, Korzo's numerous shops and restaurants are expected to have their supplies delivered by truck.
But during the daytime, cars can only enter the pedestrian zone if the owners are Old Town residents and have a parking space other than on the streets, or if the driver is disabled. Also, official embassy vehicles are permitted, as according to international law they are classified under special legislation as "untouchables" and being under the ownership of a sovereign country. But ideally, there should be no cars parked on the Old Town streets during the daytime.
The reality, however, is a bit different. Careless drivers do not worry about the rules. Cars often park along Venturska, Panska, Michalska and Sedlarska streets with impunity as if overlooked by the police, with no worries about being towed away or immobilised by the boots placed on cars' wheels. It has come to the point that the city police patrols which are obliged to stop cars entering the pedestrian zone at two points - near Hotel Danube and beyond the Central Post Office - do not even bother to lock the turnpikes blocking the entrances.
After a spot-check by the mayor earlier this spring, the question was raised whether it was effective to have patrols and turnpikes. Also, it was understood that the idea drivers would actually be caught and/or fined at the turnpike by which they entered had become something of a joke.
It is true that in Bratislava sometimes the 'unofficial' laws are more powerful than anything else. The city police complain of drivers of limousines or 4x4 jeeps who gain entry by flashing their guns. This is very sad, considering that it is happening in a central European city in the new millennium. I myself have recently witnessed one such incident where the Old Town district mayor was yelled at by a Balkan crew in a dilapidated VW Golf while trying to settle a dispute on Laurinská Street.
In a situation where neither police nor public officials enjoy natural authority, a 'regime of stone' might help.
So far, no automatic turnpikes, no decorated brass poles or banisters have effectively blocked entrance to the Bratislava Old Town. Powerful cars have only been deterred by granite barriers, which are not the prettiest additions to the Old Town but are nevertheless very effective. If more were erected, they would remain until local drivers respected the law as they do 50 miles to the west in Vienna. Over there, the same bad wolves behave as mildly as lambs.
In comparison with other Slovak towns, Bratislava's inner city is rather unique. Košice's Hlavná ulica is an elongated square that grew out of traditional trade roads. The houses and shops can be supplied from the parallel streets at the rear of Hlavná. Bratislava's inner city, on the other hand, has an irregular Roman layout consisting of ancient routes used by merchants' as well as various other constructions and original settlements.
The consequences of this layout are a complicated system of delivering supplies and conflicts between drivers and pedestrians. In Bratislava, we can ensure the pedestrian zone be respected only by allowing deliveries during strictly specified times, and by levying consistent fines against those breaking the law.
Since July, the city police have been backed up by a private security service, which sadly doesn't help the Old Town's image. On the other hand, the entry points to the inner city will have to resemble a fortress or a jailhouse until we are no longer forced to cope with the arrogance of those who won't bother to walk a few minutes. Pursuing and punishing these law-breakers will be a priority for the police. Otherwise, a car free Korzo will remain the distant dream it has become.