Railroads and Ferries

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.
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52 thoughts on “Railroads and Ferries

  1. That is great idea. we could use the same system as the one in istanbul with ferry boats.

    Posted by Bahjat | February 2, 2010, 10:33 pm
  2. Bahjat

    Exactly. I’d like J of Chalcedon to weigh in on this…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 2, 2010, 10:35 pm
  3. What bringing the digital infrastructure into the modern world… Then instead of going from Hamra to a meeting in east Beirut, you can just use skype!

    And it pains me to say this Qifa, but most people seem to think that whatever the Lebanese build is going to be hit by Israeli weapons sometime this year. Tis the cold, hard bummer of the Levant.

    Posted by Abu Guerrilla | February 2, 2010, 10:57 pm
  4. Check out this website: http://www.elhub.net/

    It was featured on bloggingbeirut.com a few weeks ago and fits in pretty well to your post.

    I was impressed with the thought and detail put into the ferry project. Enjoy.

    Posted by elie-rx | February 3, 2010, 1:48 am
  5. I’ve heard before that the British government was working on a ferry proposal, but I’ve never been able to come up with any concrete confirmation. A Saida-Jounieh route with express ferries and ones that make lots of stops in Beirut would be an obviously good idea. Something like a train the Israelis have that goes along the coast, and another to Damascus would be wonderful, but I’m not holding my breath for any progress on either idea.

    It’s also worth mentioning that in Beirut and its environs “rush hour” is pretty much 8-12 and 2-7 these days.

    Posted by sean | February 3, 2010, 2:01 am
  6. There is no doubt that all the alternatives that you have mentioned will alleviate traffic jams some, but not by much. The trains do not travel frequently and unless they have a relatively high occupancy rate they are neither “green” nor inexpensive.

    If alternatives are to be considered then a modern public transport will be a more feasable system rather than to revive a system that has been out of operation for over fifty years.

    The top priority , the fastest and the most effective method for dealing with congestion is touse one form or another of demand management. This idea assumes that a large number of the vehicles on the road are abusing a free public good. I will not bore the readers with the details but this problem is not exactly uncommon. In most cases a relatively simple study can demonstrate the extent to which the drivers demand is elastic. If one can show that there is a relatively high degree of flexibility then a system of Tolls can decrease congestion rather substantially. If on the other hand the demand turns out to be highly inelastic then highway expansion and public transport will have to be considered.

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 3, 2010, 2:03 am
  7. I’m in contact with someone working on the railroad idea (yes, someone in the government is actually working on this idea.) I’ll pass your ferry idea along. Seriously. It’s a really good idea. The other good thing is that with the exception of the ferries themselves, bombs can’t destroy the sea, so it doesn’t have to be rebuilt in the event of another attack. (Always looking on the bright side!)

    Also, what about a “Walk, Beirut” campaign? I walk from Hamra to Borj Ghazal because it takes a half hour, which is the same or less time than taking a cab. I realize there is a massive resistance to walking, and Lebanese might not be keen on the idea of wearing walking shoes and carrying their work shoes, but it would really alleviate traffic problems if more people would walk to work.

    Of course, that would also require doing something about pedestrian crossings. It’s not a nice feeling to feel like you’re going to die walking somewhere…

    Posted by Cathie | February 3, 2010, 3:43 am
  8. All I would like to see is for some traffic enforcement! If the police would stop people double parking (I mean some people literally park in the middle of the road), functioning traffic lights, actually marked out the roads, ensured people actually have to take driving tests and that driving instructors are trained (accident rate is one of the highest in the world).

    The list could go on…

    In other words: drive before you ferry.

    Posted by deensharp | February 3, 2010, 4:11 am
  9. “Qifa Nabki” can be a great title for this post 🙂

    Posted by Firas | February 3, 2010, 4:48 am
  10. I love your ferry idea QN.
    I’ve always wondered why there isn’t more of a demand for a public transportation network. I always hear about the defunct tram system in Beirut from my older family members.
    I think SuperZiad should launch a massive campaign promoting any and all alternatives to driving: walking, cycling, light railway or tram (my favorite option), trains, and ferries.
    I’m sure it wouldn’t be so hard to find donors for such a green initiative.
    Imagine going to Bourj Hamoud for a falafel taking the tram…

    Posted by Blackstar | February 3, 2010, 5:16 am
  11. Another vote for the ferry idea, since it seems to require much less public infrastructure investment/construction. Maybe even so little, it could be done by a private company?

    Btw, I am pretty sure I was using the train in Lebanon around the late eighties, granted only north of Beirut (between Batroun and Jounieh mainly).

    Posted by Pat | February 3, 2010, 5:20 am
  12. Very good idea, the ferry!
    But I agree with the people that prefer the tram – ya tramway Beirut:

    Posted by Umm iDriss | February 3, 2010, 6:22 am
  13. A ferry might be cheaper to build than a railway, but it still requires capital, more than the price of a mini-bus, for the boats and more importantly the docks. I am scepitcal about leaving this entirely to the private sector. In addition countries that have privately run public transport systems and weak transport planning have atrocious transport systems (compare US, UK to France or even China).

    Posted by Karin | February 3, 2010, 6:32 am
  14. Interesting post, QN. While in Beirut, I like to walk. For example, between Sodeco and Hamra, I usually go through Bechara Khoury St., with a “pit-stop” at Virgin Megastore, and so on… I know of a project to build a subway (metrô) that has been halted due to worries about destroying our archaeological heritage during excavations, besides, of course, the usual lack of money to fund expensive projects like this one. As for the railways, I remember that trains stopped to circulate long before the war. Maybe in the sixties. The fact is that, as far as Beirut is concerned, something must be done to alleviate the daily ordeal faced by its population. How about biking? It could be part of the solution.

    Posted by Voice from Brazil | February 3, 2010, 9:15 am
  15. I work as a traffic engineer here in Rio in a municipal company, Companhia de Engenharia de tráfico do Rio de janeiro – CET-Rio, within the Municpal Transportation Secretary. Here we have huge problems on traffic and transportation. Rio is like europe in the aspect of urban planning (portuguese influence)with narrow streets, very few highways, and like america with its strong car loving relationship. we have subway, trains, buses, bikes, ferry, walking, taxis, vans and traffic jam. When I was in Beirut in 2005 and back again in 2009 I could see the traffic got worse. Every post here is a important idea to improve the traffic and transportation. Ferry, train, tram, bus, bike, law enforcement, tolls and a modal interchange to complete. In São Paulo they have the “rodizio” during the weekdays (here is mon to fri) some vehicules cannot go inside a area of the city according to the car plate number. And as someone posted here people’s culture has to change because you could have all the best solution in public transportation but if people don’t buy the idea it will not work.

    Cathie I would like to work as a traffic Engineer in Beirut, do you know where I could send my CV to? are there a public company or bureau that deals with traffic or transportation in Beirut?



    Posted by Alberto | February 3, 2010, 9:20 am
  16. @ghassan

    Please elaborate on your point. What do you have in mind when you say “modern public transport”, particularly one that is green, inexpensive, and quick to implement. 🙂

    Highway expansion is a nightmare. And in the areas where traffic is worst, expanding roadways is simply not an option. How do you propose we do that in Hamra or Achrafieh? It would take years and the legal problems would be monstrous.

    The problem with road tolls is that they are essentially a regressive tax. The people who can’t afford to live in Beirut and yet can’t afford NOT to work in Beirut are the ones who will be hit the hardest.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 3, 2010, 10:47 am
  17. Hell, I’d settle for some pedestrian crossings, traffic law enforcement, bus and taxi stops, and sidewalks that aren’t primarily used for parking lots. Oh, and a map of the bus routes wouldn’t hurt either…

    Posted by sean | February 3, 2010, 11:06 am
  18. The main issue is creating advocacy group(s) that can push the debate further either by (i) informing public debate through focused studies or (ii) mobilize people around demands for better public transportation.

    there are no such groups today in Lebanon. And let’s face it, the debate within government (be it CDR or other entities) will not be driven by concepts of the public good but more by muhasasa (who will benefit from the possible contracts around this).

    Many cities (including many by-the-sea cities such as Istanbul) have wonderfully reclaimed roads through tramways. It has really changed the urban landscape (even LA is doing it)…

    A train along the coast seems like a no-brainer (even if expensive) as I don’t see what other option would exist (the boat option does seem like a good add-on but not as a primary option due to impact of weather on boats etc).

    In the meantime (ie, while politicians figure out how to profit from a future train), Lebanon could easily use dedicated lanes for buses on the coastal highways. This has been used by many cities. the buses would operate like a train (ie, only stopping at certain stops) and the lanes would be off limit to car.

    Posted by Reclaim Space | February 3, 2010, 11:17 am
  19. I’ll add this to Elie’s site:


    Posted by Tarek | February 3, 2010, 11:24 am
  20. Another experience from Brazil is one in Curitiba, south brazil. They built exclusive corridors for articulated buses. it was a revolution in public transportation and many cities around the world studied the project and adapted it to their needs. It is fast and not very expensive to implement, clean, and of low maintenance. Buses can run on ethanol or eletricity. Rio is doing the procurement on it first bus corridor.
    Now the new word in brazil is Mobility, it is a word that compass all the aspects related to traffic, transit, transport, time spent in transit and so on.

    Posted by Alberto | February 3, 2010, 12:23 pm
  21. I really wish someone in this government whoever is concerned with this problem of traffic congestion to be reading this post and all those comments! we are really fed up with this unbelievable traffic jam! i would really love to walk in Beirut or ride my bike but all ready with all those cars around and this pollution, it’s unbearable! we need less cars in the streets, for that to happen we need better public transportation systems! we want these red buses to be renovated, to work efficiently and be on time so we could rely on them and use them more often! let’s start by improving what we all ready have and then dream of trains and boats.

    Posted by Celine | February 3, 2010, 12:33 pm
  22. Do any senior government officials read this site?
    Abstractly discussing the abolition of sectarianism is one thing. But on this topic, people are proposing some very interesting and feasible ideas. It would really be a shame if this discussion didn’t reach someone in a position to act on it or at least seriously think about it.

    Posted by Blackstar | February 3, 2010, 12:52 pm
  23. Blackstar

    The blog is fairly widely read in civil society, NGO, journalistic, and some government circles.

    I’m told that Super Ziad reads it (or did at one point).

    But he may be too busy these days. 😉

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 3, 2010, 12:54 pm
  24. For some amazing thinking (backed up by great examples) about how to do public transportation right, check out:


    Posted by Benjamin Geer | February 3, 2010, 2:23 pm
  25. QN,
    I will try to make a couple of points in regard to the post and also in answer to your question. Just as an aside, traffic congestion has been one of my academic interests, only last week I gave a 3 hour presentation on the subject. I mention this only to highlight that these ideas that I had mentioned and the additional ideas that I will refer to are the result of very serious thought by economists, environmentalists and urban planners.
    Let me highlight again that traffic congestion is looked upon as a classic example of the Tragedy of the Commons by Hardin. To be more specific it is an example of a public good and the negative externalities that arise during peak hours.
    Congestion is very costly in time , money and environmental degradation. No one should be given a carte blanche to incur such costs on society without being subjected to a penalty. The principle behind this is simple and straight forward. Let the user pay. All users of public goods in essence get a free ride whenever they use say the public roads.
    How does one solve a traffic congestion? The traditional remedies of highway expansion is never the answer. Expansion offers a temporary relief but make the use of the public roads less expensive (measured in time) and so it winds up being an invitation for greater use. Inevitably after some time the traffic problem is back to where it started.
    The only real solution is a combination of policies, tools and initiatives that will contribute forcefully to a change in behaviour. Studies have inevitably shown that a large percentage of the vehicles on the road do not need to make the trip on which they have embarked and when they and if the journey is essential often the time window is wide opened. This means that users do not take into consideration the cost that they inflict when they enter a public road. That is where Demand Management comes in. Smart systems abound. Each vehicle will have a coded card attached to the windshield and whenever they enter a restricted area there will be a charge that will vary by the time of the day and the day of the week. (QN, you mentioned that you went on an errand to Roumieh, I am very familiar with the area. Do you know that it is very common to residents of Roumieh, Brummana, BeitMery … to go to drive to Beirut sometimes 3-4 times a day; once to have a coffee at Hamra, another time for a drink at Gemayzeh, a third time to just kill an hour..) Why shouldn’t we ask these individuals to pay for the real cost of their trips? They do get a free ride most of the time don’t they.
    Besides Demand Management we can eliminate the need to drive to the city. Should every Lebanese go to Beiry=ut for anything that they want to buy? What about the official government business. Would it make sense to have regional offices for all official transactions.
    Smart Growth demsnds that we make it more difficult foir people to use their cars and not less so Smart urban planning builds train stations with small garages so that more people will take public transport to the train station even. Then obviosly if we are to get more people out of their cars then we have to offer them a decent reliable alternative. How about a free public transport say from major parking hubs at the city limits to certain major points in downtown.
    To change habits one must use the combination of Pull-Push. Offer convenience to act as a pull but combine it with a fair cost in order to push a person to adopt new habits.
    And last but not least build cities and public areas that are less dependent on cars and more pedestrian friendly.

    In a nutshell adopt demand management, make the city less car friendly, eliminate the need to have to come to Beirut for all government transactions and supplement that by a reliable and inexpensive public transport system with bus lanes minivan lanes. The ultimate goal should be not to make cehicular use easier but to change behaviour: Do I need to make this trip? Do I need to make it at this time? Is the main road the only way to get there? Is there a public transport alternative? Policy is more important than infrastructure in solving such issues.

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 3, 2010, 3:15 pm
  26. Ah youth and their great ideas. Railroads and ferries, things of the past…You know there are busses that make wonderful connections through our pretty country, but God forbid a Lebanese getting on the bus…It is not their style to ride with laborers and other such hardworking people. What makes you think Lebanese with any ‘class’ will commute with them on railroads and ferries?

    I know how reliable it is to travel by bus. That is what I use when I am there and walk from one stop to the other to make my connections. But I am from the old Lebanon that cares about its environment and doesn’t fear Israel’s destructiveness. I know that over all the years we always pulled ourselves back up and rebuilt, no matter what or how.

    When we look at the problem now we are forgetting all the bigwigs that have the roads closed for their safety, and when they travel they need a circus of an entourage with big 4-wheel drives. They add more to the problem than the peasant going everyday to work.

    You see, the problem is much bigger than traffic and streets. It is the way the Lebanese love their country. They love it with words and songs and pottery. The rest, respect, and honesty is irrelevant. So sad but true Until we treat this little few thousand kilometers of land with respect and think less about how we can exploit it, we won’t be worthy of it.

    Posted by kt | February 3, 2010, 4:13 pm
  27. I would rather bank on private initiatives like the Beirut Water Taxi linked to by Tarek above. I think it is more realistic given the circumstances. Frankly, I am not even sure the Lebanese government can handle a “public” project, let alone one on the scale we’re discussing here. And I don’t see anything wrong with the private sector as long as it is properly regulated (like the Dolmuş service, again to take Istanbul as an example). The government could try out something called “regulation” in order to keep the service maintained and appealing for a larger segment of the population. They could also try not to subject it to the same kind of political and clanish pie-sharing busses and vans are subject to.

    Posted by Ms. Tee | February 3, 2010, 4:55 pm
  28. all i can add is that the kadıköy/karaköy ferry was the most humane commute i’ve ever known. and i invent reasons to do it even now.

    agree with ms. tee that it probably makes more sense to offer a concession for the service – whose initial cost shouldn’t be overwhelming, and could be indirectly defrayed if needed by, say, a toll on single occupant cars entering beirut at certain points.

    Posted by J of Chalcedon | February 3, 2010, 8:02 pm
  29. QN,

    I looked at Google maps and I think that the ferry idea is dead in the water (ok, pun intended). Seriously though, it would be a horrible ride on many days because the ferry would be operating beyond the wave breakers. If this project were to work, the Beirut harbor breaker needs to be extended way north.

    Posted by AIG | February 3, 2010, 8:18 pm
  30. I can always count on AIG to inject reality into our dreamy civil society proposals.

    Do you guys have anything similar?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 3, 2010, 9:55 pm
  31. Q,
    I don’t want to rain on anyones parade but I agree with those that have questioned the idea of a sea service or a railroad service to serve the Chouf.
    Sea Taxis might work but they will always be a niche business. Beirut does not lend itself to efficient sea service. By the time that one drives to the harbour in order to take a seaservice to say the Rmleeh Al Baidah then take a cab from there to wherever their real destination is going to be the day will be half over. Ferry service between Tripoli and Beirut or possibly Sidon and Tyre might make more sense but that does not alleviate a lot of the Beirut traffic congestion. The eventual feasibility of each of these depends on the passenger load factors that can be anticipated. My gut feeling is that slow ferry boats will not attract enough riders to make a big difference. People in a jurry need a fast comfortable service and that cannot be a sea taxi either. One needs large modern Cats or hydrofoils otherwise the attraction will be limited to tourism and the few who are not in a hurry.
    Dealing with congestion can be accomplished through one way only: get a large number of vehicles off the road. If we are not willing to do that then we are not willing to address the problem realistically. There are no easy solutions to this issue.

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 3, 2010, 10:33 pm
  32. Ghassan

    Thanks for your input. I’ll try to respond tomorrow… zonked right now.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 3, 2010, 10:38 pm
  33. QN,

    There are no ferries in Israel. Too slow and and as mentioned, a really bad ride on many days.

    The best solution if you can afford it and if the land permits is a subway. In Tel-Aviv this is too expensive because the city is built on sand and the tunnels would have to be ultra deep. In Beirut I would worry about the earthquake risk. You guys are too near the the Syrian-African fault. The next best solution is a light train. This seems to be working not bad in Israel.

    The light rail systems will not solve the congestion inside central Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem. Eventually, the centers will be limited traffic zones in which only electric taxis and buses will be allowed. I see no other solution.

    Posted by AIG | February 4, 2010, 12:32 am
  34. I see the problems with the aquatic transport ideas now. The ferries seem to be better suited for longer distance travel (Tyre-Beirut-Tripoli axis), whereas the consensus seems to be that the congestion problems result from excessive dependence on cars for very short travel distances. So maybe the public awareness campaign should target the short distance travelers within the core of the city instead of focusing about inter-city transport. Either way, there is no way any improvement will be made unless a whole slew of measures are implemented. Here is my make-shift list:

    – Public awareness campaign to convince people that they can move about without resorting to their cars; promote walking and cycling. The new rent-a-bike programs in Montreal, Paris and other cities have been huge successes: http://www.bixi.com/home
    – Improve road infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists and massive human investment in road safety rules and education.
    – Improve and increase bus networks. Someone mentioned issuing maps of bus routes and making sure buses stop at designated busstops.
    – Build a tram (I refuse to give up on this one!)- even if it’s limited to certain core highly congested areas.
    – Promote carpooling by having reserved bus lanes and carpool lanes. Slap hefty fines on anyone who doesn’t respect the rules.
    – Why not pedestrianize more and more areas of the city? Some streets are just too narrow to drive in anyway. They should revert to being pedestrian only.
    -Combine that with what a previous reader suggested: restricting entry into the city to odd or even numbered license plates on alternating days. Alternatively, impose a congestion charge like there is in London.
    – Add a ferry for longer distance hauls.

    Making car use more difficult is pointless unless alternative means of transportation are made easier. Basically, all the proposals individually are good, but they can’t stand on their own. They have to be part of a comprehensive multi-faceted solution in order not be merely punitive.

    BTW, I think Ghassan mentioned tolls. Do these really work? I personally hate tolls, and I always thought they increased traffic instead of alleviating it. Isn’t their purpose also to fund a construction project rather than tackling congestion?

    Posted by Blackstar | February 4, 2010, 5:42 am
  35. I’ve lived the transformation of Athens before and after the olympics specificaly through the construction of its metro… its true that it took so long to built it (that’s the greek way) but with only two additional lines to one already existent, it was enough to change the city radically… and shape a new attitude of the car addicted Athenians.

    It didn’t solve all problems but what happened as an immediate consequence more Athenians started using the metro and the metro continued its expansion…

    all efforts and solutions are needed for a modern beirut: trains, trams, ferries, buses… but on long term bases only metro can bring citizens to “educate” themselves into a new way to live the urban expirience and ferries to percieve landscape and identity in different way.

    N.B.: one of the reasons of delays of the metro in athens were the archelogical discoveries. Just immagine what would that perspective mean for a city like beirut?

    Posted by georges salameh | February 4, 2010, 7:00 am
  36. Blackstar,
    The purpose of a Demand Management toll is not the revenue but an inducement to change behaviour. Demand Management would be successful if traffic decreases and no tolls are collected :-).
    Another purpose , which is very important, is to prevent “free riders” as much as possible. If driving aimlessly for an hour is not valuable to you then you would not pay ,say, the $5 Toll. If on the other hand it is important then pay the toll and send a message to the gate keeper that to keep you of the road the toll has to be increased to , say, $7.

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 4, 2010, 9:38 am
  37. “If driving aimlessly for an hour is not valuable to you then you would not pay ,say, the $5 Toll.”

    You know where I’d love to see a toll levied? On Bliss Street, between the hours of 6pm and 1am. That might keep the shabab from doing their barmehs around in their BM’s, trying to decide where to eat.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 4, 2010, 10:15 am
  38. One point that is very interesting and ghassan mentioned it is why almost everybody has to come to Beirut. The Government should promote the economic development of others parts of Lebanon so people would have not to comute to beirut to work, study or shopping. Tripoli, tyre, Sidon, Byblos, Jounieh, Baalbeck, Zahle they all could do well with some help from central government, or even some NGO could work on it.

    Posted by Alberto | February 4, 2010, 12:34 pm
  39. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/


    Here’s a couple of systems on the Left Coast of the US. They are relaxing/fun to ride

    Posted by jo6pac | February 4, 2010, 12:51 pm
  40. hey everyone,

    first of all, a great thanx to all bloggers who have spotted elhub and are spreading the word!
    second, the project is building up in a nice way, so in order to discuss, answer questions, concerns about waves and other technical details… it would be great if we could try canalzing the discussions on elhub’s facebook so it’s available to everyone: http://www.facebook.com/pages/elhub/181187458275?v=app_2373072738&ref=ts

    see you there!

    Posted by elhub | February 5, 2010, 11:02 am
  41. At the Orange House near Mansouri, you walk over the old tracks to get to their beach… It’s only one set of tracks, and really narrow gauge, so the trains must have been small and slow.

    Posted by Tim | February 5, 2010, 1:41 pm
  42. There are so many issues related to this topic, but I don’t think anything will help solve the problem until people change their attitude regarding such matters.

    For example, as someone else mentioned, there are many in Lebanese society who are more engrossed in their image than anything else and trying to get that person to leave their Hummer at home and take the bus instead is going to be a huge issue. Then there’s the sense of entitlement of some . . . those who think their entitled to block the crosswalk or double & triple park their cars. And then, there’s the problem of those who have no consideration (or in some cases knowledge) of the rules of the road . . . like the drivers who turn a 3 lane highway into a five lane highway, or those who think the lines on the road are meant to be driven ON, or those who totally ignore the fact that they’re driving in the opposite direction of traffic because they’re too lazy to go around.

    The way I see it, in order to get around all those issues, we first need to implement forms of education, traffic control and enforcement. I think if we can change people’s attitudes, then getting them to take a bus, tram, ferry or train will be a heck of alot easier.

    Posted by a voice from NY | February 5, 2010, 6:26 pm
  43. Might I mention that the Lebanese railroad is still a “public institution” in Lebanon, not included in the budget, whose employees are still paid for by the government, despite the absence of a functioning train.

    Posted by Amalia | February 5, 2010, 8:16 pm
  44. On a good note, as far as heavy traffic in Beirut, it is a good indicator of a decent economic activity. That’s the good part.

    On the other hand it is a bad thing in the long run including for economic activity. Affordable grand solutions are quite difficult to achieve due to quite tight govenment budget.

    In the meantime, some affordale measures can be taken to alleviate the problem, like:
    . Installing traffic lights on as many intersections as possible
    . Serious enforcement of traffic laws
    . Expand existing public bus service, and make it more reliable and appealing
    . Initiating a comprehensive traffic study to understand the pattern as to where folks are headed to at these hours, to be able to formulate effective solutions
    . Have central government reginal offices to conduct/process paperwork, instead of having everybody always driving to Beirut
    . Look at Beirut zoning vis a vis density. All these new highrises add lots of cars in an already saturated area, especially Corniche, 3in el Mreise, Hamra, Manara, Raouche, Ramlet El Baida, M3ametein, Jounieh, on and on. Traffic should be taken in consideration when adding to the density.

    For long-term solutions, my preference would be for:
    . Revive the coast rail line with new equipment (granted that the line/right of way is still availabe). Start small and grow bigger. Start with the heavy traffic section, between Jounieh and downtown Beirut. With future sections that stretch from Sour to Trablos
    . Ferry sercive to all major coastal cities. This would not only help with commuting, but with tourism as well (which is very important in my view)
    . All the ferry and train stops should have Park & Ride parking facilities, as well as service, taxi and reasonable small buses services.
    . Levy a hefty new car tax to help fund a portion of the public transportation projects

    Posted by Ras Beirut | February 5, 2010, 11:53 pm
  45. Well said Ras Beirut thank you… all very constructive and useful suggestions.

    Posted by kt | February 6, 2010, 12:38 am
  46. Thanks Kt. Read your post above about folks not willing to take public transport. Well, I agree with you, and I’m also old school as you are.

    I went back to Beirut after 25 plus years absence and I managed few trips with the Service and the buses, and enjoyed every minute of it. Made me feel as if I had never left, especially with the drivers’ stories, lol.

    The private “Service” system as well as the limited public bus system should be more supported and expanded by the government to relief congestion in the short term, while long-term solutions are being pursued.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | February 6, 2010, 1:32 am
  47. Commuting in Beirut and along the coast is a nightmare, the situation is really getting people to grasp the urgency to act. This is the first step and a very propitious moment to change the lebanese car loving culture of “tefshikh”. As one participant noted the real issue is the Lebanese mentality, if we cannot change the Lebanese mindset we’ll never be able to convince people to use means of public transportation.

    On another note, the current public transportation solutions are deplorable, even with decent lines and bus stops, commuting in buses will not affect congestion and will not allow us to get to work on time.
    I am also afraid that the proposed water taxi and ferries will not be accessible to the general public cos i presume that the costs will be too elevated; i wouldn’t wish to see elitist transportation means.

    I recently watched Abdallah Zakhem ( a Lebanese banker) on MTV discussing a shameful proposition to deal with congestion. He seemed so serious as he proposed building a 2 way / 4 lane highway 600m above sea level complete with toll booths crossing the entire mount Lebanon from north to south all the way to the bekaa. the interview made me feel so frustrated because Mr Zakhem simply ignored the environmental impact of his project. I hope he is not taken seriously.

    IMO, the only way to go to relieve traffic congestion in Beirut is underground with at least one subway line (as a first step) crossing key stations in Beirut and linking its North and Southern suburbs.

    I have always questioned how current public works and transport minister Mr Aridi is so keen on having a daily televised appearance to discuss the Ethiopian airlines crash tragedy and never mentions the congestion issue. It’s sad to see our ministers taking advantage of such a tragedy for campaigning.

    Finally i would like to see a group of activists pushing all of these valid propositions on the to implementation. QN you should lead

    Posted by EZ | February 15, 2010, 6:03 am


  1. Pingback: Métro de Beyrouth « the human province - February 3, 2010

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