the sounds of silence: Beirut without mopeds
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 28, 2008
Yesterday the Interior Ministry decided that mopeds, motorbikes and motorcycles were to be banned from the city’s streets, starting at 6 pm.
This happens every so often around the region – in fact, it may happen less in Lebanon than in Jordan or Syria, where motorcycles were believed to facilitate quick getaways for would-be assassins and other opposition activists.
In this case, the intent seems to be to prevent tensions from escalating, since the ban also includes “provocative motorcades” and flag-waving. Not the Lebanese flag, and not official motorcades, although they are often fairly provocative. The ban is against the unofficial, semi-impromptu processions of cars filled with young men, holding their party’s flag out the passenger window and honking like mad as they drive through neighborhoods affiliated with an opposing party.
When H and I went out to Gemmayze last night to celebrate my friend A’s birthday, the spectacle of watching the ISF impound motorbike after motorcycle bedazzled us all. As we drove home, we saw an ISF-owned flatbed truck parked on the side of the road near the end of Riyadh al Solh, half full of designer motorcycles – and with three more lined up next to it, waiting to be loaded.
Life without mopeds certainly has its advantages: less stressful driving, for one thing. Moped and motorbike drivers tend to drive in between cars, often heading in the opposite direction. And when there is a sidewalk, they tend to consider it their “lane”.
But mopeds and even motorcycles fill a real need in Beirut: they are the transportation of those who cannot afford cars, and want more independence than the bus or services system provides. I was told that the fine for driving one now is one million Lebanese pounds, or $670. Moped drivers can’t afford a fine this steep.
I feel deeply sympathetic to the young men whose investment and whose independence have suddenly been taken from them. But I must admit that I am enjoying the equally sudden silence in my neighborhood. Beirut’s mopeds are often shy on mufflers, and some drivers actually work to increase the vrrooom-vrrooom sound.
Without them and the flag-waving rah-rah boys, the night is much more tranquil.