Parking in Amman: Privilege or Right
Urban Crossroads #15

                A stacked parking structure in New York City. (The Jordan Times)

               A stacked parking structure in New York City. (The Jordan Times)

Amman is a parking haven, especially when it comes to street-side parking. You more or less can park in whichever way, whenever, and however you wish. It is common in Amman to find vehicles parked next to ‘no-parking" signs. It is common to find vehicles along the same street parked parallel to the curb (and at widely varying distances from it), perpendicular to the curb, and at just about any angle from the curb. It even is common to find vehicles parked on the sidewalk (parking, in fact, seems to be the main function of wide sidewalks in Amman). Double parking also is widespread, and, in a few cases, I even have seen vehicles parked in the middle of the street.

Shop owners also will go through extra efforts to make your life easier as a vehicle owner. They will claim the side of the street facing their shop (which as far as I know is public property) as their own, and place signs stating that these areas are reserved for the vehicles of their customers.

As a vehicle owner, you probably will get a couple of parking tickets each year, but that is a very small price to pay for the tremendous freedom you get in Amman when it comes to parking.

I often hear the comment that parking violations are minor traffic offences. Accordingly, the authorities should not enforce them too stringently, but should worry about more serious moving violations such as speeding. I would argue that the authorities do not enforce parking violations with enough rigor. I regularly find myself stuck in traffic that has come to an almost complete halt because of a single illegally parked vehicle. Along streets with fast moving traffic, the effects of illegally parked vehicles can be deadly. When a speeding vehicle along such a road suddenly comes across an illegally parked vehicle, it may not have enough time to stop. It either will crash into the parked vehicle, or will swerve into the adjacent lane, thus crashing into the vehicle or vehicles that happen to be passing there at that time.

Basically, there is a predominant belief in Amman that one should be able to park immediately next to one's destination. In fact, you often will find double-parked vehicles because their users want to be as close as possible to the location they are visiting even though they may properly park only a few meters away.

Although the following proposition will not be popular amongst the drivers and shop owners of Amman, I believe we should look at street-side parking in Amman as a privilege rather than a right. In the central parts of many cities of the world, parking is both difficult to find and expensive. People accept such a situation and therefore go to those areas on foot, by taxi, or by public transportation. Amman in fact is no exception to this pattern when it comes to parts of the downtown area, where street parking is not allowed. Instead, drivers park in parking lots or multi-floor garages in the downtown area. Others park along streets in the surrounding hills and walk to the downtown area or take a taxi or a "service" line to get there. This arrangement works well and no one seems to complain. It controls the number of vehicles coming into the tightly knit and crowded part of the city, and allows pedestrians more freedom of movement there.

I would argue that such a system should be expanded to include other parts of Amman where traffic congestion is extensive and far more vehicles search for parking spaces than is available (the Sweifieh commercial area is one that comes to mind). This requires rethinking our conception of automobile access in Amman in a manner that limits the freedom of drivers to park their vehicles wherever they wish. It also should be accompanied by encouraging higher levels of pedestrian movement and access in those parts of the city through upgrading both sidewalks and points of pedestrian crossings. In spite of the initial opposition of shop owners and drivers to such an approach, it will make Amman a more livable place for all of us.

Mohammad al-Asad

August 12, 2004