A dysfunctional sidewalk in Amman. (Lina As'ad)
To state that Amman is a pedestrian-unfriendly city is nothing new. A number of its streets do not have sidewalks. When sidewalks exist, they often lack continuity from one plot to the other; their heights from the street pavement vary considerably; and trees with low branches often are planted in their center. It also is not unusual for streets to be widened in a manner that eats up parts of the adjacent sidewalks.
Crossing a number of Amman's busy streets is a nerve-wrecking and life-threatening experience. The conversion of numerous traffic light intersections into underpasses and overpasses has made life even more difficult for pedestrians The preexisting traffic lights at least provided locations where vehicles would stop and pedestrians would be able to cross the street. Pedestrian bridges are being set up in some locations, but they are too few and far in between. Take Zahran Street for example, one of Amman's main arteries, which extends westward from the older 1950s parts of the city all the way to its newer extensions in the Wadi al-Seer area. The street's eight-kilometer stretch, from the second circle (where it is still al-Kulliyyah al-‘Ilmiyyah al-Islamiyyah Street) to the eighth circle, includes only four locations where pedestrians may cross it with a minimal level of safety. These are the fourth circle traffic lights and three pedestrian bridges: one located between the Fifth and Sixth Circles and two located between the Sixth and Seventh Circles.
With the exception of parts of downtown Amman, where continuous functioning sidewalks are available, most of Amman is the undisputed realm of the automobile.
Even in issues of maintenance, priority is given to the street over the sidewalk. When a street in Amman is dug up for infrastructure repairs, it usually is fixed up relatively quickly. However, when a sidewalk is dug up, it will be quite some time before it is fixed up, assuming it ever is. The only exception to this neglect of sidewalks is the mystifying obsessive painting of sidewalk curbs with black and yellow stripes.
I love walking, and I walk extensively when visiting pedestrian-friendly cities abroad. However, I rarely walk in Amman. The bad state of sidewalks, the challenges of crossing busy streets, and the reckless driving habits of some drivers, make walking in Amman too unpleasant and dangerous. I even am terrified when my children venture out to the sidewalk of our house.
What is to be done? I had read in the local press on more than one occasion that the Municipality of Greater Amman has developed plans to rehabilitate sidewalks in the city. Such declarations show an awareness of Amman's friendlessness to pedestrians, and provide a first step towards dealing with the problem. However, we yet have to see such positive intentions transformed into actions.
Rehabilitating the sidewalks of Amman and making the city a more pedestrian friendly place is a monumental task. An effective point of departure might be to develop certain zones in the city as pilot projects for sidewalk and street crossing rehabilitation. The lessons gained from those pilot projects would greatly aid the concerned authorities as they gradually expand their efforts at making Amman more pedestrian friendly to include other parts of the city.
Numerous areas immediately come to mind for these pilot projects. Some areas may be rehabilitated for pedestrians with relative ease, such as the Umm Udhaynah market area near the Sixth Circle. Other areas require considerable effort, but offer considerable opportunities for enhancing pedestrian activities. These include the Wasfi al-Tall (also known as Gardens) Street, along which disconnected stretches of what are made to pass as sidewalks often abruptly end with a drop of about one meter.
The rehabilitation of sidewalks would need to address a number of factors, all based on simple common sense. One is to connect stretches of sidewalks along the same street together in a matter that creates a continuous pedestrian path. The heights of the sidewalks from the street pavement also need to be unified at a comfortable level. Clear standards should be specified regarding issues such as planting trees, and also placing street furniture (wastebaskets, benches, bus stops, ...) and signs. In the case of trees, for example, such standards would specify the minimum width of sidewalks that may accommodate trees, the size and location of openings for tree pits, and the type of trees that may be planted. Not only should those trees be drought tolerant, but also should have high canopies that provide shade and allow for the unobstructed movement of pedestrians. Also of great importance is making sidewalks accessible to the movement impaired, who not only include the physically handicapped, but others such as those pushing babies in strollers. This is achieved by creating ramps with comfortable slopes that connect the sidewalk to the street, and avoiding abrupt level changes within a given sidewalk.
Addressing the problems of pedestrian street crossing may be achieved by creating pedestrian crossing zones that are served by traffic lights, and by constructing pedestrian bridges. Another option is constructing pedestrian tunnels. Because they incorporate ramps, tunnels are accessible to the movement impaired, and generally are far more comfortable for pedestrians than bridges, which incorporate stairs that have to go up the equivalent of more than two stories to provide the necessary clearance for vehicles passing underneath. Pedestrian tunnels, however, are very expensive and complex to construct, and since they are underground, they require constant lighting, as well as diligent maintenance, cleaning, and security services.
The various solutions mentioned above will contribute to creating safe, comfortable, and continuous areas reserved for pedestrian movement. Of course, there also is the option of converting certain streets into exclusively pedestrian zones, but this is the subject of a separate future article.
June 24, 2004