Traffic in Beirut is awful and it’s getting worse. When I was in town a couple of weeks ago, it took me an hour to traverse the 3km from Hamra to Sodeco on a weekday afternoon, and then another hour and half to get from Sodeco up to the mountain village of Roumieh (which would take fifteen minutes on a quiet Sunday morning).
While traffic has ostensibly been made a top priority by Interior Minister Ziad Baroud (although shouldn’t this be the province of the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation?) I don’t understand why there hasn’t been a major push to explore other alternatives to alleviate the problem.
Supposedly, there’s a move afoot to get the railroad working again. This makes me very happy and oddly nostalgic, even though the service stopped before I was born. I grew up listening to my grandmother tell me about how she used to ride up to Beirut on the train and then hopped on the tramway that ran within the city itself. Sadly, most members of my generation aren’t even aware of the fact that Lebanon once had a working railroad that ran up and down the coast and all the way to Damascus and Homs; the trains stopped running when the war began, and the light rail system within Beirut was eliminated in the 1960’s to make way for more cars.
Ghassan Su`ud had a nice piece in al-Akhbar last year that dealt with some of the issues involved in re-establishing the line; also, be sure to check out Ms. Tee’s collection of photographs of old train stations. For an amazing collection of Lebanese railroad maps, photographs, and information, visit al-Mashriq.
But what about passenger ferries? Has anyone really explored this possibility? I did some calculations on the back of a napkin recently, and I’m guessing that an average ferry (nothing that sophisticated or super-fast) could make the trip from Jounieh to Beirut in about half an hour. If you were to try to make that trip in a car during rush hour, it would take you about double the length of time. On a ferry, you could relax, read a newspaper, take in the views of the sea and the mountains, and have a cup of coffee instead of fighting back road rage and breathing in toxic fumes for an hour.
Any other ideas? Tollways? Dedicated bus lanes? It seems to me that traffic is an eminently solvable problem, and one in which the private sector could play a significant role. Is anyone aware of any significant transportation-related initiatives under development?
Update: I love the internet! You learn stuff! Check this out, brought to my attention by readers.