Haunted by the pollution poisoning their city’s car-clogged roads, more than 200 cyclists took over Beirut last week Sunday in an effort to demand a revival of its once-decent public transportation system.
The seven kilometer (5 mile) activist ride from the new waterfront to Mar Makhael train station, which is littered with the bones of retired busses and trains, occurred exactly one year after 14 non-government organizations established the National Coalition for Sustainable Transportation, spelled out a dual message: public transportation is crucial to combat pollution and traffic, and biking is cool.
“A sustainable transportation is vital infrastructure for our future in the country,” Greenpeace activist Rayan Makarem told the Daily Star.
Remarkably, even now people in the Arab world frown upon cyclists, as though being on two wheels instead of four somehow halves their social standing. But a great number of Lebanese activists are riding to change that stereotype, to show that cycling can be fun.
Graphic artist Siwar says she gets a lot of attention for being a girl who also happens to ride a bicycle.
“I bike all around Beirut, she told the paper. “People are always surprised when they see a girl biking around the city.”
She also insists that Beirut is one of the world’s most accessible cities for cyclists, at least in terms of size. Compared to some places where people ride their bicycles for up to 40 minutes, Siwar says she can get from one side of the city to another in ten.
But other cyclists are less willing to take the risk without bicycle lanes, which, in addition to decent cars and buses, is on NCST’s wishlist, and settle instead for substandard buses.
Air pollution in Beirut that even contaminates cheese and meat currently stands at roughly 300 times the concentration that is deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO), an alarming number that activists believe can be slashed with a sustainable transportation system.
And so the cyclists ride, but is anybody listening?
image via Beirut.com