We have all been wondering for years what that hanging bridge was doing next to Sagesse school, as we headed towards or out of Achrafieh.
I didn’t even know it was a bridge until very recently. The only function I thought that construction had was to tell people the time and serve as a platform for political slogans and Christmas trees. Another entity into which our money was wasted.
How wrong was I?
That meaningless bridge is but one piece in a big puzzle, one of which I was made aware a while back but thought was simply fiction. The complete picture didn’t make sense. It was too obscene, too disgusting, too horrible, too criminal to be conceivable.
But as things go in Lebanon, the monstrous project might just be underway.
The Fouad Boutros Highway this way comes, ripping Achrafieh in half, running straight into Mar Mikhael destroying countless old buildings in the process. All to alleviate the traffic problem.
I am not one to weep over Lebanon’s old buildings as if nothing better can be made. This isn’t about sentimentalities towards stone, towards a neighborhood in which I spent years of my life and witnessed first hand as it lost it charm bit by bit. This isn’t about the people who will lose their homes but get paid millions in compensation.
Achrafieh is dying. And nobody cares.
Do we have a traffic problem in Achrafieh and Greater Beirut? Definitely. Is a highway ripping a region in half the best way to deal with this traffic? Definitely not.
A highway which was planned before the civil war has no place in the Achrafieh of today, a place that has evolved beyond the project’s plans. The highway has no place in being the best current solution for the traffic problem.
What this highway does is only show some serious lack of foresight, which is normal around this country: fix a problem now, ignore the underlying cause. A few years after the highway’s potential completion, traffic will come and bite the same region again. The inherent flaw won’t be fixed.
The traffic problem in Lebanon, in my opinion, can be categorized in the following way:
1) Our common transport sector is nonexistent.
2) Our plans for developing the common transport sector are nonexistent.
3) People do not carpool. Nor is the notion of carpooling instilled in their minds.
4) Importing cars is a lucrative business. There are no limitations on how many cars can be imported and sold.
5) Our current roads are not equipped to contain the load of cars driving on their asphalt.
6) There are no plans to tackle the issue of Lebanon’s automobile sector overload.
7) There are no plans to improve the current state of roads across the country.
8) Driving laws are not applied nor are they enforced.
9) Driving education is archaic at best.
10) Lebanon is a deeply inefficient country.
And yet here we are, possibly spending millions on a highway that will disfigure an entire region and destroy its heritage because it’s the easy way out of a mess we don’t want to handle. After all, aren’t all major car importers in the country figuratively in bed with governmental figures?
Have we tackled every single possible resort to handle the traffic in the area that the highway will destroy before deciding to go ahead with it? No.
Instead of spending millions on a highway that will serve only one particular segment of Beirut mainly, why doesn’t our government have the foresight into planning for something more sustainable, friendlier and much more efficient?
Why not invest in tramways, in railway in Beirut and, yes, even metros?
Perhaps our current infrastructure is not equipped for such projects. But if the plans are made for such projects, I believe it is conceivable that we have the capacity to operate them by the time they’re done. Let’s not even begin to kid ourselves that the highway will be done in a short time. It’ll be years till that project ends as well.
The key to solve Lebanon and Beirut’s traffic problem isn’t horrible projects that manage to infuriate people only by having rendered pictures of them made. It is by investing in a common transportation system decent and sophisticated enough for the people to begin thinking about ditching their cars to go to work or to class.
Rest in peace Achrafieh if this highway truly goes underway. It was nice living the unbroken version of you.