“You’d be home by now.”

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.
Arab Weekly
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.
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18 Responses to “You’d be home by now.”

  1. Bama says:

    Fabrizio, this post showed up just a few minutes after I emailed the Lebanese embassy here in Jakarta about the requirements I need to complete to get a visa. I may or may not go to Lebanon in the end, we’ll see. Speaking of the traffic, Beirut sounds like Jakarta, in a way. Here typically office hours start around 8:30 or 9am. But many people leave their houses as early as 5 in the morning so they won’t get stuck in the traffic. They also tend to stay at work until late to avoid rush hour traffic. We have a saying here in Jakarta that the traffic makes people “grow old on the streets”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. James says:

    As someone also living in Jakarta – the world’s biggest city without a metro – I had the same thought as Bama above. The terrible traffic here is the main reason why I choose to walk home from work every day, even though it isn’t quite walking distance, being 3.5 kilometers or a brisk 45-minute stroll down buckled pavements (where they exist) while breathing in diesel fumes and dodging speeding motorbikes. It isn’t the most pleasant walk in the world, but I’d much rather be going somewhere on my own two feet than being stuck for an hour or more inside a vehicle.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anna says:

    I won’t whine about Perth traffic again!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting post. We have both always loved Lebanese food. We tend to choose countries by the food we love. We went to Viet Nam for the same reason and ended up living there for five months and we continue to return. Mostly for the food…. haha.

    We have the same kind of traffic in the city of Colombo here in Sri Lanka. I would not want to be riding a bike in that traffic or pollution!!

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Well, food over in Lebanon is great. And not just the high end, I think I ate half my meals at Barbar, a cheap restaurant that just did kebabs… But easily the best kebabs ever!

      Like

  5. Dave Ply says:

    Fortunately, Portland is fairly assertive towards providing bike routes. Unfortunately, you need to enjoy riding a bicycle in the rain 6 months out of the year – and watching out for traffic.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Input the name of any major city for Beirut and that commute sounds exactly correct for many of us. Hearing of your unfortunate bicycle excursions in London reminds me of an episode of “Top Gear” in which a bicyclist had to attempt crossing the city.

    Like

  7. You’re a braver man than I am Gunga Din! Nothing would get me to ride in London, and Beirut sounds positively suicidal. Here in (rainy) Vancouver bikes rule! Bike paths and bike lanes everywhere, and drivers are conscious of bikes and know they have to respect them. It’s a green city.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  8. J.D. Riso says:

    This brings back memories of living in LA, and Phoenix, and the one hour (at least) commute each way to work. On a drive that should have been 15 minutes. That was so long ago and since then I’ve lived in places with great transport..Prague, Budapest, or sparsely populated areas like where I am now. Traffic is pure hell. And riding a bike can be risky. Everyone I know who commutes by bike has had some kind of accident, some of them serious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      That’s a shame – I mean biking accidents – because cycling is so damn fun. But, alas, a bump by a car is often game over. I miss the Budapest and Prague transport systems, especially those lovely trams!

      Like

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