Spinning for a car-free day in Tripoli, Lebanon. Though not clear of cars, the streets were considerably less congested and polluted.
Like in many Middle Eastern cities, walking the streets of Tripoli in Northern Lebanon is an assault on the lungs. Battered, old taxis dart and crawl along the cramped roads, oozing billows of pungent fumes, while furiously honking their horns. But this all changed on 14 November.
A coalition of youth NGOs from the north of Lebanon, known as the Tripoli Youth Network, came up with an idea that was to become the Middle East’s first ‘car-free’ day.
Calling itself a ‘Mega Green Event’, aside from the thousands of Lebanese citizens who attended the event, the initiative attracted high-profile attention, being officially inaugurated by the Lebanese President, Michel Sleiman.
MP Robert Fadel tells us why we should go car-free
Although cars were technically only banned from two major thoroughfares of Tripoli and Mina, a stretch of about 10km of road, the other streets in the city were considerably less congested than normal, with the people of Tripoli opting to walk or use buses rather than drive their cars.
A programme of sporting, cultural and other entertainment activities was organised for the closed roads, aiming to spread a greater understanding of the environment and, whilst avoiding politics, to highlight the environmental challenges that Lebanon faces today.
President Sleiman planted an olive tree on the Mina corniche and kicked off a solar car race along the car-free stretch of road. Children from local schools had been taught how to make electric cars that were used for the race.
A bank handed out apples to passers-by, a drawing competition was held for young children under the title ‘What the environment means to me’ and from two main stages Western and Eastern music played long into the night.
Although the event was scheduled to finish at 6pm, people crowded the streets to such an extent that the roads remained car-free until after 9pm. Encouragingly the MP Maurice Fadel received calls for the event to be repeated in the near future.
The event attracted considerable support from across the country, especially among young people, with many cycling from Beirut, and over 150 taking advantage of the free buses for volunteers to take part in the event.
‘This is the first time I have seen the roads of my city free of cars since my childhood. It brings back memories of Tripoli in the early thirties’, Abdul Sattar Halawani, an 86 year old resident of Tripoli said.
::Car Free Day on Facebook; Photos via the organization’s Facebook page.
Dubai had a car-free day earlier this year so Lebanon isn’t the first, but among the first!