We also know how to think outside the box. While people in other countries remain idle in traffic, unable to move because they’re constrained by the curb, we see opportunity where they see limitation. We simply climb over the elevation and edge along slowly into oncoming traffic. Those drivers, meanwhile, recognizing that we’re more special than our peers who are still stuck back there, blare their horns at us in admiration and give way in tribute. Never for a moment do they consider such behavior to be that of an idiot who should be locked up.
And traffic lights have naturally adapted to our to own driving style, with green still meaning “Go,” but orange means “Go faster,” and red also means “Go,” but in “stealth mode.”
Furthermore, to be a Lebanese driver is to know entering a one-way street, even if another car is already heading toward us, doesn’t mean we should stop and give way. On the contrary, we venture forth because the law applies to others, not to us, and we make that known by screaming at other drivers who fail to acknowledge our superiority even if we’re driving the wrong way.
“One of the most commonly shocking things that make up the texture of Beirut is the driving. For most Europeans, the anarchic unwieldy mini-thriller episode that plays itself at every intersection is simply scary. Funnily though, Beirut traffic intersections are statistically less dangerous than say, London ones. While the London driver would count totally on the law and everybody else rigorously following the system, the Beiruti driver simply cannot. Instead, he or she has adapted to an environment that constantly leaves any option open. What that means is that even though things look dangerously chaotic, in fact they obey a very subtle set of unwritten laws that allow the whole system to self-regulate and to remain robust.
If one driver burns a red light at a busy London intersection, you can imagine the resulting chaos: at least five taxi cabs and a double-decker will pile up, and the grid will be stuck for hours. In Beirut (and I feel it is similar in Rome or Milan), the other drivers would be able to avoid collision at the very last moment, thanks to their higher alertness, linked to their understanding of each other’s temperament.
[…] In fact, a lot of the driving in Lebanon is regulated by continuous eye contact between the different drivers. With a wink or a nudge of the head, or a firm stare, little messages are exchanged that hint at the driver’s mood or their next manoeuvre much more reliably than their honking or their turning signals. You just need to learn this language through experience. Meanwhile, just relax when you’re in the passenger seat of a Lebanese driver, it is really much safer than you would think.”
The 1.3 kilometer road aka the Fouad Butrous Highway will be built in Ashrafieh and is set to pursue the current Alfred Naccach highway, which comes from Hotel Dieu, runs below Sassine Square and stops in front of Spinneys. It is supposed to be extended all the way to rue Gouraud, a bit to the east of the Office de l’Electricité du Liban.SBH began working on the project over a year ago, when a resident of the area alerted the group of its upcoming execution. “We now have confirmation that the process has accelerated and that the bulldozers are standing by,” Tarraf said.“SBH has gathered experts to compile a comprehensive study of the impact of the Fouad Boutros highway on its surroundings. With the generous voluntary help of local and foreign urban planners, traffic engineers, architects, activists, public servants, journalists, artists and of course the proud residents of the area; we have compiled enough data to prove that this project will have grave and possibly irreversible impact on the city and its inhabitants.”According to Tarraf, the go ahead was given without a prior impact study; a legal requirement to such projects adding to much of its abhorrence by the residents of the area and activists alike.So here is another classic scenario where concerned citizens are doing the work of their government.“Shockingly, we found out that the municipality of Beirut has not commissioned a traffic simulation model. The Lebanese state has therefore no scientific basis to justify this huge public expense and the destruction of one of the last well-preserved neighborhoods of the capital. Indeed, a comparison with maps from 1928 shows that over 60 % of its heritage buildings and over 50% of its green spaces still exist!”[…] Mona Hallak, an urban planner also campaigning against the project said the bridge was being built to ensure an easier and swifter path for trucks en route to Beirut port.“Organizing the streets and coordinating traffic would surely reduce traffic congestion and facilitate circulation within the city at a lower cost,” she said.So it seems business deals are being struck at the behest of the council of ministers who approved the project, vise a vise the Council for Reconstruction and Development (CDR) and the Beirut municipality who commissioned Matta Contracting; a construction company with several government affiliated jobs under its belt.
While projects like highways are meant to propel growth by making areas more accessible, they can also eradicate what makes them worth visiting altogether, causing decline instead.
Officials at the Council for Development and Reconstruction expect construction on the so-called Fouad Boutros Project to start this summer and conclude in 2016, with costs projected at around $60 million.
“[There will be] a number of bridges and tunnels in the 1-kilometer-long project [once it is complete],” said Elie Helou, a senior project manager at the CDR.
“Traffic will not be interrupted [by incoming cars from] intersecting roads,” he added.
Planned and partly implemented in the early 1970s, Helou said that the project would greatly reduce traffic in and out of Ashrafieh by giving commuters bound for Charles Helou “direct transit” to the highway.
“Instead of making a big turn in Ashrafieh to reach Charles Helou, commuters coming from the Sayyad roundabout or Hazmieh and the Hotel Dieu areas will have a smooth ride,” Helou told The Daily Star.
The Beirut municipality has owned a large chunk of land needed to advance the project since the 1970s, but a number of additional residential areas need to be purchased as well by the municipality once a judge designates the market price of individual apartments.
[…] Helou also said that the CDR has launched a tender process to choose a company proposal that meets the financial and engineering standards set by the city’s municipality for the project.
But officials at the Public Works unit at the municipality said that they were kept in the dark about the details.
“All we know is through the media, we have neither been consulted nor given the chance to share our opinion about the project,” one of the officials at the unit told the CDR in a letter Monday.
[…] “This project has not been studied properly and it goes contrary to Ashrafieh’s structure,” said one of the activists who refused to be identified, because negotiations are still ongoing.
“The money is there, but instead of building highways in Ashrafieh’s oldest streets, the municipality should carry out modern projects that would provide long-term solutions to the city’s problems,” he said.
Where is the Ministry of Public Works & Transport in all of this? I know for a fact that the D.G. of Land and Maritime Transport, the ministerial body most intimately tied to this sector, does not see highways as a solution to anything and is taking a public transport policy direction.
It’s a shame that the loudest protests are coming out from the architectural heritage lobby — where is the transport policy critique?
I think this is one case where I will be very comfortable to step out of my researcher role and make noise of my own. Who can help?
UPDATE: A tv report on the issue.