The Greater Amman Municipality has uprooted 55,000 trees from sidewalks across the city over the past four years under a campaign to make the capital’s pavements pedestrian friendly (Photo courtesy of GAM)
The Greater Amman Municipality has uprooted 55,000 trees from sidewalks across the city over the past four years under a campaign to make the capital’s pavements pedestrian friendly (Photo courtesy of GAM)

By Khalid Neimat

AMMAN – Amman is not pedestrian-friendly, according to capital residents, who listed numerous dangers on any given street in the city.

Amman recently ranked second among the five most un-walkable places in the world, according to the Planning Pool, a blog launched in 2008 by a handful of students at the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning, which focuses on urban planning issues.

To many Ammanites interviewed by The Jordan Times over the past week, the news came as no surprise.

“You risk death when walking on sidewalks in downtown Amman or any commercial area within the city,” said Ali Al Ahmad, while shopping in the city centre last week.

Not only vehicles, but also objects falling from construction sites, pose a threat to pedestrians in the capital, the 37-year-old added.

“The sidewalks are usually for planting trees, parking cars, displaying cars for sale, or an extension of cafés. In the end, pedestrians have to walk at the edge of a street full of irresponsible drivers,” Ahmad noted.

Yousef Nabil, a 25-year-old graphic designer who often wanders the city’s streets looking for inspiration for new designs, agreed, saying that the city’s number of traffic fatalities is “unsurprising”.

“The pavements here are miserable,” said Heba Qatamesh, who works on Mecca Street in west Amman.

By law, the pavement is public property, she said, and does not belong to merchants “who think that walking in front of their shops is like trespassing on private property”.

Mohammad Issam, who owns a mobile phone shop in the Sweifieh area, added that the city’s designated pedestrian crossings are “nothing but mere decorations” that do little to reduce the risk of being hit by a car.

“What is wrong with our city?” one young man asked. “Are there any fines for compromising the safety of pedestrians in the country?”

In theory, the law punishes those who put pedestrians’ lives at risk, but according to the young man, who declined to be named, these laws are often not enforced.

Several residents questioned the results of the Amman Master Plan, which was designed to enhance life in the city.

“A liveable city is an organised city with a soul” has been the Amman Master Plan’s slogan for years, but several residents said they feel their city now lacks both qualities.

‘Auto-centric city’

Urban development experts attributed the lack of progress in making the capital more pedestrian friendly to an excessive focus on the part of officials on making it more car friendly: Expanding roads and speeding up traffic, rather than allowing for more diverse modes of transportation.

Amman has become an “auto-centric city”, noted Kamil Mahadin, chairman of the Amman-based M.K. Associates, a professional landscaping, architecture, planning and engineering firm.

“This is very clear if you visit Wasfi Tal [Gardens] Street, one of the busiest in the Kingdom. the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) urban planners and developers have expanded the street to provide for parking, but did not think about pedestrians at all,” he told The Jordan Times last week.

Another part of the problem, according to Planning Pool, is that sidewalks are treated as private property, and responsibility falls to home and business owners to maintain them.

“In Toronto, homeowners are responsible for shovelling the snow off the sidewalk in front of their houses in winter,” the blog said. “In Amman, they’re responsible for building it in the first place.

As a result, residents must navigate sidewalks that are too narrow, with dramatic changes in elevation and rows of potted plants and chairs placed by homeowners, the blog stated.

However, Planning Pool noted that “residents are fully aware of the problem and the mayor has established the Amman Institute for Urban Development to guide the city’s pedestrian renaissance”.

Solving the problem

Officials say if Amman’s sidewalks remain in a sorry state, it is not due to a lack of effort.

Over the past four years, GAM has spent JD15 million on constructing and maintaining sidewalks, according to GAM Deputy City Manager for Public Works Fawzi Mousaad.

In response to the poor conditions of sidewalks within Amman, GAM launched a project in 2006 titled “Rehabilitation of Amman’s Pavements”, which focused on removing trees from pavements to free up more space for pedestrians, the official said.

Under the project, GAM has relocated 55,000 trees from sidewalks across the city to other locations, he added.

But capital residents have not seen much progress in making the city more pedestrian friendly or in upgrading its public transportation system, Amman resident Mustafa Jaber said.

Mahadin noted that simply removing trees from sidewalks does not solve the problem, which he said stems from the heart of the city’s urban planning strategy.

“We lack comprehensive urban planning that addresses the social requirements and the development needs of any street or neighbourhood in the capital,” he said.

Many residents, such as Jaber, are not optimistic about pedestrian-focused urban planning any time soon.

“In light of the financial difficulties facing GAM, I do not think it will be safe to walk in the foreseeable future,” he said.