Rest in Peace Achrafieh?

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(Picture source)
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?

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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.

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Jal el Dib Citizens Need To Tone Down the Bridge Melodrama

We apologize from all citizens. But you won’t be able to use this highway on July 10th starting 7 A.M. We want a tunnel, not hypocrisy.

That’s the banner citizens of Jal el Dib hung on a pedestrian bridge near their city’s exit. They are still protesting the demolition of a hazardous bridge that threatened the lives of people who drove on it but which provided a passageway under it for them to access their city easily.

So today, instead of immediately taking a left (or a right, depending on highway direction) when they reached the bridge area, they have to go all the way to the Nahr el Mot ramp and take the opposite highway. In total, that’s about 15-20 minutes extra in rush hour, not more and anyone who says it’s more than that is lying to you.

Jal el Dib citizens can go into Antelias and take inner roads to get to Jal el Dib. But no! They need a bonafide bridge all for them. An extra few minutes is unacceptable. It’s a disgrace.

One does not simply not have a bridge or a tunnel for their corresponding hometown in Lebanon. One does not simply lessen the exits on Lebanese highway to lessen congestion. One does not simply accept the government not spending over $20 million for a tunnel only one would be using.

That’s how the citizens of Jal el Dib are functioning these days. Forget what $20 million would do (if it’s not stolen) to various sectors, we must spend them on a useless bridge.

Electricity? NO. BRIDGE!

Water? NO. BRIDGE!

Internet? NO. BRIDGE!

Better roads for all? NO. BRIDGE FOR US!

And the story goes on and on.

Dear Jal el Dib people,

One does not threaten to block the road for EVERYONE simply to prove a point. One does not stop EVERYONE from going to work just because you need an extra few minutes to get to work and with you being so close to Beirut, why don’t you think about those commuting from Tripoli every morning?

God forbid you wake up a few minutes early every day so you’re not late for work. God forbid your city doesn’t “suffer” because it’s “harder” for people to get to it. Let me tell you something which applies to many: we won’t visit Jal el Dib unless we have something to do there and if we have something to do there we will have to take any road that gets us there.

Perhaps some Jal el Dib citizens should be taken to some European countries where missing a highway exit means you have to drive for more than 10 minutes in order to correct your mistake. But hey, this is Lebanon. So they got what they wanted because our politicians are too cowardly to stand up for anything and our security forces are too “neutral” to disperse any undemocratic form of expression.

Fa bel lebnene, fina bala ghenej w me7en ba2a? 

Censored Billboard on Lebanese Highway

I don’t get this at all.

Why would anyone do this to a billboard that they plastered all over the highway?

Do they think it will shift male drivers’ attention from the road? I can think of other ads that do that much better. Shouldn’t they be worried about that alfa-BLOM bank billboard that messes up your vision before you can shift back your focus on driving?

Since when are we a country that’s afraid of showing cleavage in posters? Who allowed such a thing to happen in the first place?

Newsflash: Lebanon is not an uptight and ultra-conservative country.

This is horrifying.

The Batroun – Tannourine Highway

Back in 2000, I used to go on trips to Tannourine with a friend and complain about the constant works taking place on the roads leading there.

“It’s for a good thing,” the man always told me. I never knew what he meant until very recently. I only realized the importance of the full scope of the project at hand yesterday when it took me ten minutes to get from my hometown to Tannourine, using the newly opened section of the Batroun-Tannourine Highway, the part extending from the town of Bejdarfel to Assia.

Easier commute, easier ambulance trips, easier impromptu road trips…. You name it.

We, as Lebanese, always nag about the dismal state of our infrastructure. So it’s nice to highlight something good for a change. And this is definitely on the advanced side. Instead of working on already existing roads, they’ve created new ones in valleys and mountains to cut distances short. And the effort put in the highway shows.

There’s still a little more work that needs to be done on some of the newly finished sections: put up lanes and fix some asphalt-related issues, but overall, it is a great drive. At some points, with the towering mountains around you all full of snow, you feel like you’ve been taken out of the stereotype image you have of Lebanon and to some section of the Italian alps. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Batroun’s MPs have been working hard to get the highway plans underway and hopefully their enthusiasm and the highway will be properly maintained. The final stretch of the project extending from my hometown, Ebrine, to Batroun will start soon.

The newly finished part, just outside the town of Bejdarfel

Just outside my best friend's hometown: Boxmaya. Apparently you can go to Al Koura from here as well. I had no idea.

The older part of the highway

I bet Fairuz would be happy that her trip from Hamlaya to Tannourine is rendered much shorter now.

Driving in Lebanon

It’s no wonder Lebanon has the highest amount of “credible” psychics in the world. It’s a simple manifestation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. How so? Let me elaborate.

When you drive in Lebanon, you need to have a sixth sense in order to survive – a sense that lets you anticipate what the other drivers around you decide to do so you react accordingly.

What’s the point of using blinkers to signal going left or right? just swerve out of the left lane to go into an alley that branches out of the right lane, which happens to be three lanes away. And you know other drivers aren’t bothered by this because, well, they probably knew you were going to do it.

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