Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Like in most cities in the world, folks here complain that the traffic has gotten worse. It's a simple formula: more cars and the same roads (plus no new transportation alternatives) equals more traffic. The Damascus taxi driver's most-repeated word is zahmeh – (traffic) jam.

There are no posted speed limits in Damascus – on one of the two "autostrads," which lead out of town, there is a sign politely requesting drivers – "Dear driver," it starts – to moderate their speed – but, in truth, there is little need for speed limits or traffic police to enforce them. There are so many cars on the streets at virtually all hours of the day that it is impossible to drive fast.

An old plan to build a subway in Damascus has been shelved indefinitely, pending funding. But four rail lines are scheduled to be rebuilt starting this year for high-speed electric trains, with suburban stops.

There are also plans afoot to tear down a 15th-century neighborhood – historic preservation often takes a backseat to progress – to make way for an autostrad through the center of the city, with traffic lights on either end. One European expert advising the project, however, told me in a chance encounter at my neighborhood watering hole that it will do nothing to ease traffic congestion.