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Pedestrian unfriendly Amman

Feb 12,2019 - Last updated at Feb 12,2019

Every time I drive in Amman, I witness the chaos in the city streets that seems to be increasing by the hour. Years ago, I always believed, indeed hoped, that the concerned authorities, particularly the Greater Amman Municipality, would be aware of the mounting city problems and, as such, must be working hard to gradually resolve them. I could never imagine that the level of degeneration and disorder witnessed on a daily basis by ordinary people such as myself would escape the notice of those in charge; municipality and government. But progress has been negligible if at all existent.

Understandably, any such lack of progress would have to be tolerated in a city that has had to cope with mounting challenges, due to a massive increase in population, extensive urban expansion, an unprecedented construction boom and rising demands for all kinds of services.

To look at it positively, Amman with its four-and-a-half million inhabitants is safe, relatively prosperous, basic services are available to all, clean, suffers no power cuts like many other neighbouring capitals and water, despite its scarcity, is adequately available year round.

But a lot more should be done, and done quickly. Delayed solutions for urgent problems create serious complications and magnify the issues as well as the cost of delayed management. 

The city’s system suffers from serious defects, particularly inadequate traffic management: a direct result of people’s need to own more private cars in the absence of an efficient and  long-overdue public transport system. The traffic jams in Amman are becoming seriously obstructive, costly, time consuming and polluting. Lack of road discipline compounds the phenomena.

There is little or no walking space, so people and cars blend dangerously together. Pavements either do not exist or are very narrow, dangerously uneven or are used as parking spaces for nearby residents’ cars as well as being riddled with all kinds of obstruction and hazards, such as unsuitable trees, staircases, shabby structures, walls, holes, ditches, debris, merchandise and more.

People rarely use sidewalks, choosing instead to stroll in the middle of the street amid oncoming vehicles. One reason for this is the uneven, user-unfriendly nature of the available sidewalks. Another reason is that they, the people, are not required to do so by law. In most cities of the world, the law defines which public space is for pedestrian use and which is for vehicles, therefore, if a pedestrian is hit by a car, while in pedestrian space, the sidewalk or a marked permitted pedestrian crossing, the responsibility falls on the motorist. But if a pedestrian is injured by a vehicle due to jaywalking or crossing road recklessly, the pedestrian can also be partially blamed and at fault for any accident.

However, this is not the case in Jordan unfortunately, where the driver is always guilty of any accident and always liable for the cost of harm done to others, no matter how huge the cost. Even if while driving carefully and slowly or not even moving, a careless pedestrian bumps into your car and gets hurt, the driver will be held responsible for that.

For this reason, and others, people do not hesitate to mix dangerously with moving cars in busy streets or from crossing anywhere carelessly and negligently. Often, they are not aware that drivers can be careless too or that cars can get out of control. Apparently, they do not think of the dangers involved, particularly in the stunning absence of vital awareness campaigns to alert people to their safety needs and requirements.

There is no question that the Greater Amman Municipality has a lot of projects and duties to deal with. There must be financing problems too. That is all understandable.

But the city cannot continue to be growing so rapidly without order, without better street arrangement, without ample pedestrian space, without reorganising sidewalks, without delineating parking space, without protecting public space from illegal abuse and without putting a drastic end to the growing chaos. All that may be needed as a first step is to enforce the existing laws and regulations that regulate pavement specifications and prevent any aggression on them, whether in commercial or residential areas. Streets should be clearly marked so that responsibility for any violations can be easily legally assigned. The law should be amended accordingly so that people are made aware of their responsibilities too. They should be aware that their rights can be respected so long as they abide by the law.

Lawlessness leads to more lawlessness. People would not be always expected to voluntarily act lawfully if not required to do so; worse if they do not face accountability and if there is no punishment and heavy fines.

Amman deserves better and its inhabitants deserve better too. Serious steps for ending the prevailing chaos have to start and to take effect. We are close to the point where driving in Amman will become impossible.

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