As a capital, Beirut is not huge. Since the city is densely populated, distances are manageable despite the city’s one to two million inhabitants. Areas are connected through a sprawling network of roads, highways, side streets and one-way thoroughfares. So, getting around the city should be easy.
Most often however, these streets are crammed with cars. From early morning to very late, Beirut’s army of SUVs, old Mercedes taxis, scooters and shiny black autos congest the roads, whose capacity was exceeded long ago. Traffic jam, the infamous aaj’a, has become an integral part of daily life. For commuters, drivers and people who need to go from one side of town to another, traffic is an inescapable test of patience and endurance.
Given this situation, the smartest strategy for getting around is to stay out of traffic. Which means walking. Now, this is totally doable. And nice. When walking, you discover things you would never notice from a car or a bus. As the proverb goes, life is a journey, not a destination. Also, on foot, it seems like you get closer to the city itself. You connect to it. To the old house hidden among the high rises, the fruit vendor on the corner, the latest street art, the bored police man playing with his phone.
The problem however, is that much of Beirut’s infrastructure is not made for walking (or for strollers or bikes, but that’s another story). Sidewalks come in all conditions imaginable, including ‘nonexistent’. Getting from point A to B typically implies zigzagging between a number of odd obstacles. Parked cars, plastic chairs, piles of trash, concrete blocks, trees and large billboards all inhabit pavements across the city.
For someone who is healthy and fit, this is not an existential problem. It is quite easily surmountable; it even raises the level of adventure in everyday life. Gives the expression “urban jungle” a new meaning for sure. On a serious note though, it does have implications for many people. Often, there is no way to get through with a wheelchair. Or to walk safely being visually or hearing impaired. But, those lucky enough to be fit for walking are up for a fun challenge.