BEIRUT: Christmas is on the way and both citizens and tourists are expected to fill the busy streets. Along with holiday cheer, ’tis the season for blaring horns and particularly enraged drivers.
Knowing extra effort will be needed to avoid road congestion this month, Beirut Governor Ziyad Shbib is to hold a meeting with the police early next week to announce a traffic plan for the upcoming holidays.
“In order to solve traffic issues, we are preparing a set of security measures, such as stopping work at construction sites near the roads and avoiding excavations in the streets,” Shbib told The Daily Star Thursday.
“But we’ll go more into details during the meeting with the municipal council and the Internal Security Forces next week.”
Each year, the holiday season brings gridlock to cities across the country as shoppers and merrymakers arrive. Moreover, celebrations and festivals will be organized across the capital in the coming weeks, and some will require traffic diversions, the governor said.
“For example, a festival at Badaro will take place over the weekend, so naturally the traffic will be diverted both on this and similar occasions in order to make transportation easier for drivers,” Shbib said.
Col. Joseph Moussallem, the ISF spokesperson, was expecting the yearly application of extraordinary traffic measures.
“It’s not easy to control traffic,” he said during a phone call with The Daily Star. “But our role is to make an effort as security forces to relieve the pressure of the traffic.”
Outside of Beirut, the governor of Mount Lebanon, Fouad Fleifel, issued a circulatory note Wednesday related to special measures to solve traffic congestion during the month of holidays.
“For organizational purposes and to facilitate traffic during the holidays season, it is necessary to facilitate the work of municipal police and take the steps to ease the transportation of citizens,” the statement read.
The governor held a meeting Thursday morning in his office in the Baabda Serail, in the presence of the commander of Mount Lebanon Brig. Gen. Jihad Howeyik and the mayors of the area’s main cities.
During the meeting, Fleifel said he hoped that citizens would enjoy peace and tranquility during Christmas and New Year.
“It’s necessary to solve traffic congestion during this month by increasing the number of traffic control officers on the streets,” Fleifel said.
The governor also asked municipal authorities to support officers’ work especially in front of commercial zones and shopping malls, in coordination with the traffic detachments of the ISF, he said.
Residents of Beirut said they doubted that the government’s traffic measures would change anything.
Sally Hammoud, an Ashrafieh-based tailor, talked to The Daily Star while she was cutting a piece of cloth. She posited an alternative that would last well beyond the holiday season. “Every company or bank can provide a bus for their employees to get back from work,” she said. “Well-heeled workers don’t like to take public transportation, so this is a solution.”
Sitting on the sidewalk further down on the same street, three women were chatting. The youngest of them, a marketing student who wished to remain anonymous, gave another solution to the perennial traffic issues.
“Every mall in the area can have its own bus to pick up people who want to go shopping,” she said. “The number of cars is increasing, and the problem lies in the behavior of taxi drivers.”
Bus drivers too, she said, contribute to the issue. “A bus driver just suddenly stops in the middle of the road,” she said.
A group of men sitting in front of a sundry shop in Tabaris were engaged in a conversation about the huge traffic problem in Lebanon, particularly in the holiday season.
“Changing people’s working hours this month would help a lot,” one of them said.
“This way, not everyone would be on the streets between the hours of four and seven in the afternoon.”
Additionally, several of the men said they used motorcycles instead of cars to better get through the congested roads.
Fabio Sukkar, an economics major at the American University of Science and Technology, lives in his own studio in Sodeco, but prefers to walk every day to his work in Gemmayzeh, because it is faster than taking a cab.
“I would suggest applying the policy of allowing only cars with plates starting with odd numbers on one day and those with even numbers on the other, as some European countries do,” he said. “But we need to get a government first.”