According to the blog 360East, Amman is about to adopt a Bus Rapit Transit system and make plans for installing light rail, two important steps to break Amman’s 30-year love affair with the private car.
Having lived in Amman in summer 2006, I can attest that buses are a mess. They are very cheap but often have no doors. Sometimes that can be a plus because the buses are filled with cigarette-puffing passengers jammed cheek by jowl in seats with miniscule leg room. But taxis are expensive, and walking on the street can be intimidating because of the combination of speeding, honking cars and unwalkable sidewalks.
The Jordan Times published a funny if disheartening essay this week about just how bad the pedestrian experience is in Amman. It’s part of a series written by urban planner Mohammad al-Asad, who founded the Center for the Study of the Built Environment. Check out his Web site for more fascinating articles on urban planning in cities like Riyadh, Aleppo and Beirut.
Al-Asad ventured out of his home sans car and headed to the Sweifiyeh neighborhood ten minutes away:
People generally are willing to walk for about 10 minutes to their destination, and even longer than that if the walk is comfortable and safe. The walk to Sweifieh (and this applies to just about all other districts in Amman) is neither. The reasons for this are familiar to all. To begin with, there almost are no functional sidewalks in Amman, an issue that so many of us have commented on repeatedly. The sidewalks are full of obstacles, whether improperly planted trees, parked cars, poorly paved surfaces, accumulated building debris, uncompleted construction work, or garbage containers (the deteriorating situation with garage collection in Amman, which used to be a source of pride for the city, is the subject for another article).
Al-Asad noticed that the sidewalks are also very high off the street, as much as a half meter (foot and a half) up. Below, a traffic jam in Amman.
Sweifieh is surrounded by a set of traffic arteries characterised by heavy and fast traffic. Luckily, there is a pedestrian bridge along the walking path from our house to Sweifieh that crosses over the relevant artery. These bridges are not ideal as one needs to climb up and down the equivalent of two stories each way to use them (making them inaccessible to people with physical disabilities, but then so are Amman’s sidewalks). They still are preferable to having to go through the life-threatening experience of crossing the street itself and navigating its fast traffic.
Al-Asad so hated the walk to Sweifieh that he didn’t plod the return trip home. In conclusion, he notes that:
As children in Amman, we walked everywhere, but over the years, walking in Amman has become increasingly difficult, uncomfortable, and unsafe. What we have here is a missed opportunity.
We’ve reported here on Amman’s plans for futuristic high-rise apartment blocks and for water conservation. I’m glad someone is taking on the crucial issue of public transportation, which is a long term investment with major environmental and social payoffs.