Walk This Way

Attempting to navigate Amman’s streets on foot can often be a hazardous business. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

By Hazem Zureiqat

Few can disagree that the situation for pedestrians in Amman is very far from ideal. Sidewalks are often cluttered with obstacles, and safe crossings are almost nonexistent.

There is much to say on this topic—not enough space to fit into one article. This month, I want to focus on the changing perception—and reality—towards walking in the city.

We’ve all have heard the nostalgic stories from our parents or grandparents about how they used to breezily skip from jabal to jabal to get to school or visit a friend, or how they walked unencumbered from their homes to the balad to shop or watch a movie.

Today, as Amman experiences rapid growth and an increasing reliance on the private car, we find walking more confined to pockets to which one has to drive. We’re now forced to drive to the balad to walk around; we drive to Rainbow Street or Abdali or Al Hussein Park to take a stroll.

More often than not, walking has come to be viewed as a leisurely activity rather than a mode of transport that takes us from point A to B.

This is the result of various factors, such as poor transport planning, disproportionate investments in infrastructure for private cars, the lack of proper and enforced regulations for sidewalks, and changing lifestyles. It can also be partly attributed to external influences that have led to the “Gulfication” of certain aspects of Ammani life.

So why is this a problem? First, as I have often argued in this column, it’s vital we develop a balanced, multimodal transport system that provides people with options to move around. These options should include walking, even in hilly Amman.

Second, despite this changing perception, the reality is still different for many of Amman’s residents. If it’s not about planning for the future, it should be about catering for existing demand. The most recent household survey carried out in Amman in 2008 showed that 40 percent of education trips (trips between home and school/university) were being made, remarkably, on foot. This can be attributed to the large number of children walking to nearby schools. The percentage of walking trips out of all trips in Amman—not just education trips—was 26 percent. Think about it: More than one in every four trips in Amman is still being made on foot (at least until 2008). How can we not cater to that?

Third, the city’s public transport program (with BRT and other projects in the works) cannot be successful without the right pedestrian environment. Accessing a BRT station will require safe passages for pedestrians, in addition to an effective feeder bus network. Walking is a key component of any trip made on public transport.

Creating areas where people can enjoy walking around is not a bad thing in and of itself. However, it should not come at the expense of making Amman as a whole more pedestrian friendly. We must enact and enforce strict regulations on sidewalks, and the same goes for crossings. The dignity of the pedestrian in Amman must be restored.