27 October 2007

Parking Meters returning to Beirut

Beirut - Come Monday, Beirut city officials hope to help ease the Lebanese capital's nightmarish traffic congestion with the first parking meters installed since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Twenty of the coin- and card-operated machines will be inaugurated in a trendy shopping area of the city centre, which has for the most part been declared off-limits to parking for security concerns.

Colonel Joseph Doueihy, in charge of the traffic department at the interior ministry, told reporters that gradually more units will be installed throughout the capital as part of a major effort to regulate circulation.

Funding for the project came from the World Bank.

"I think enforcement always leads to results because in the end citizens think of the bottom line, of their pockets," Doueihy said.

He said people who fail to feed the meters or who overstay the two-hour limit risk a ticket of 20,000 pounds (about 13 dollars) or even being towed.

"We have a special police force from the traffic department that will be enforcing the regulations," Doueihy said. "Our aim is to institute order and to ease the city's traffic chaos."

Shops and businesses along the streets where the parking meters have been installed
welcomed the measure, saying it should attract customers who are currently prevented from parking in the area which is roped off.

"At least with the parking meters, people will be able to stop for five or 10 minutes to carry out their business in the area," said Tony Attallah, a security agent at Bank of Beirut.

At the nearby Timberland clothing store, employee Shafic Shamseddin said he hoped the meters would bring in customers who shy away from coming in right now because of the parking problem.

"I think given the mentality of the Lebanese, the cops are initially going to be giving out a lot of tickets," he said. "But after people get their first ticket, they will have learned a good lesson and will abide by the law."

But Safaa Shaker, who works at Anabel, a craft store, doubted the meters would help ease the city's traffic nightmare.

"I don't think people will respect the rules because they are used to chaos," she said. "I think they will try and find a way to beat the system.

"And even if they get tickets, do you really think they will pay them?"

Parking meters existed before the 15-year civil war but were destroyed in the fighting. Traffic lights have also made a tentative return since the conflict.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.