LONDON: While Lebanese politicians usually travel in multi-car convoys, at least one European diplomat avoids Beirut’s heavy traffic by riding a bicycle.
In a message posted on Twitter on Thursday, Dutch Ambassador to Lebanon Hans Peter van der Woode posted a photo of himself wearing a helmet and standing next to an electric bike as he prepared to leave for a meeting.
The photo sparked an online debate about the country’s traffic problems, with many people praising him and calling him a “role model” for everyone to follow.
“Setting a great example. “Drive safely,” one user wrote.
Another asked the envoy if he felt safe cycling through the capital’s crowded streets.
“I felt really comfortable on the bike in traffic,” Van der Woude replied. “Just because drivers are not used to cyclists does not mean they are more careful. However, you need to be vigilant, like everyone else in Lebanese traffic.
He added that he gets around very quickly compared to people in cars, who are often stuck in traffic jams.
Nasser Yassin, Lebanon’s environment minister, retweeted the envoy’s photo, thanking him and saying the government supports the use of non-motorized transportation options, also known as “soft mobility”.
“We support initiatives that will enhance soft mobility in Beirut and other cities; But we need to work more with municipalities and others to create the right environment for easy mobility in our cities.”
However, the minister was criticized by people who accused him of hypocrisy, due to the lack of a government strategy to solve traffic problems in Lebanon.
One person wrote: “Mr. Nasser Yassin, you declared in your government’s ministerial statement to “pursue a comprehensive transportation plan and adopt a partnership mechanism between the public and private sectors.” And you, through this Tweet, are encouraging support for Easy Mobility initiatives. Can you tell us how and what you have accomplished or what you intend to achieve…aside from tweeting?
In recent years, traffic congestion has increased in Lebanon due to the poor condition of the roads, the increase in the number of vehicles using them and the failing public transportation system. According to the World Bank’s Urban Transport Development Project, Lebanese spend an average of 720 hours in vehicles each year.
Officials promised to find solutions to the country’s over-reliance on private vehicles, but were accused of hypocrisy on the issue. In 2017, for example, the Lebanese government was criticized for purchasing, or receiving in the form of subsidies and donations, “a very large number of vehicles” for use by ministries, departments, public institutions and municipalities.
The government has also been accused of breaking laws and regulations by using public money to pay for maintenance, insurance, fuel and other expenses arising from the use of some 12,000 government vehicles.
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