People in Lebanon spend more than 16% of [their] individual productive time in traffic.
Urban Transport Development Project – World Bank
For six months, straddling a winter and early summer of a few years ago, I tried commuting to work by bicycle. I was as fed up by the Tube as I could possibly be, and a job role change, requiring a switch from office hours to 6-on-3-off shifts introduced me to the night buses, which could be even worse than the Piccadilly Line. Besides, I used to cycle to lessons and work in Turin. There was, however, a little difference with the civilised stroll I used to do there, along segregated bike paths or parks by the river, and the 15-mile (one way) journey that I was to experience, all on major roads where an enlightened mind had decided that double-decker buses and carbon-fibre bikes could, effectively, share the same lane.
Traffic congestion in Lebanon is causing economic loss of 8-10% of GDP.
Ziad Nakat, Senior Transport Specialist, World Bank
Beirut has a problem with traffic. This is hardly breaking news and it puts her in company of almost any major city in the developing world where an increase personal spend has been rapidly invested on a set of wheels, regardless of whether the roads these wheels were going to run on could support them or not. But, unlike many of those developing cities, Beirut seemed not to have neither a system of mass transit transportation nor plans to get one. Compound the problem with the fact that the majority of drivers appeared to have found their driving licences in an Easter egg’s surprise, and voilà, here’s why Beirut felt devilish to drive or walk through. On our gallivants, coughing on the exhausts and dodging SUVs parked almost on every sidewalk that wasn’t protected by metal spikes, we started seeing murals from The Chain Effect.
Vehicles [in Beirut] have a very low occupancy rate, estimated at 1.2 people per vehicle.
The murals were beautiful, well executed and had some great punch-lines. Burn fat not oil. If you had a bike you’d be home by now. They resonated with me, for they were two of the thoughts that had led me to cycling to work in the first place. But there was something else, in Beirut, that reminded me of my own experience: much in the same way that I’d sold my bike and got an Oyster card back, there weren’t any bikes whizzing through the bumper-to-bumper traffic in Hamra or elsewhere. Six months after my experiment started, a nip with a silver Range Rover at a roundabout graced by a pub going by the name The Jolly Waggoner had sent me spinning on the wet tarmac, a jumble of wheels and tubes and reflective Lycra that, luckily, attracted the attention of an incoming Lithuanian lorry driver. A continent away, I suppose the Beirut riders had come to my same realisation: burning fat and getting home sooner aren’t quite worth it if you can’t show off your beach body or get home at all.