Lebanon, the 24th of February 2014
Demand for the cancellation of the highway project “Hekmeh-Turk” axis (“Fouad Boutros” Road) in favor of The “Fouad Boutros Park” and of alternative road infrastructures
Beirut is becoming a city of asphalt, concrete and glass, without a tree, without an identity and without any gentleness. We have a right to the city and to its future; this is the opportunity to finally claim these rights! Let’s ask for the end of senseless and obsolete highway projects; let us promote, instead, the green spaces we severely lack and the smart management of traffic flow we desperately need.
We the undersigned citizens, inhabitants and merchants of concerned neighborhoods and of Achrafieh, Rmeil and Medawar; employees, managers and owners of affected economic institutions; members of civil society, of social, environmental and cultural associations, of movements for civil rights; professionals and academicians of civil society, urban planners, architects and engineers; united under the name of the Civil Coalition Against the Highway Project “Hekmeh-Turk” Axis (“Fouad Boutros” road),
Announce our total refusal of the “Hekmeh-Turk” axis (Fouad Boutros road) highway project in all its aspects, road devices and components and ask for its immediate cessation and final cancellation. We also ask for the halt and cessation of all expropriation and bid procedures, whatever the advancement of the project and regardless of modifications, additions and so-called “improvements” on the original scheme (design), for a great number of reasons.
We demand that the people in charge at the municipality of Beirut officially cancel the project, and declare this in the shortest time possible. We also demand that they replace it with the following projects, which will cost less than the current project and will benefit many more areas of Beirut. (All the forthcoming projects are the product of recent studies completed by volunteering professionals, urban planners, architects and engineers):
– The creation of a staircase park, under the name of the “Fouad Boutros Park, ” with a mainly cultural, social and historical character, on the parcels already expropriated between the Mar Mitr street and Armenia Street. This park would be the first new park in Beirut since Lebanon took its Independence and will offer citizens some of the green spaces the city badly needs. A golden opportunity can be grasped here, as most of the plots for this park are already owned by the municipality. This project will preserve the rich garden and orchard vegetation and protect the architectural heritage in a profitable way by renovating it and converting it with a cultural and commercial program that will preserve the social fabric of the neighborhood by allowing all of its inhabitants to remain in it.
– The construction of a complete tunnel under the Charles Malek Avenue, from the Fouad Chehab Avenue in the West (Ring bridge), until the Emile Lahoud Avenue to the East, executed by tunnel-boring. As well as the reconfiguration of main crossroads, which will make exchange flows more fluid, especially at the level of “Collège de la Sagesse” and will improve circulation on the Charles Malek avenue, Sassine Square and all their tributary streets.
– The transfer of circulation flows toward the Emile Lahoud Avenue as it is wide and under-used — especially during peak times — then toward the most important East-West penetrating roads (Sioufi slope, Armenia Street, Charles Helou Avenue) by building efficient and modern interchanges and improving the extremities and intersections of the Emile Lahoud Avenue.
– The launch of serious studies regarding the implementation of public transportation in Beirut, which is the only sustainable solution to problems of traffic congestion and which will most certainly improve the quality of urban life and the environment overall. We should strive, as all great cities in the world do, to decrease, rather than increase, the presence of the car.
We here remind the public of the predictable impacts of the “Hekmeh-Turk” axis highway project on the urban environment of Achrafieh, Rmeil and Medawar, as well as the irregularities in the way the project is being driven.– facts that the designers and sponsors of the project voluntarily choose to ignore:
– Its impact on the historic neighborhoods of Hekmeh and Mar Michael includes the demolition of around 30 buildings — some of high heritage value — the uprooting of about a hundred trees (many of which are centennial) and the destruction of around 10,000sqm of gardens and orchards, the fragmentation of a very pedestrian-friendly traditional neighborhood composed of small streets, stairs and alleys dating from the 19th century. The project will also disrupt the historic urban façade of Armenia Street with a road bridge that will cut right through it and block the street perspective.
– Its impact on the social practices and urban fabric, which will be torn apart by the exodus of expropriated and/or expelled families along the length of the highway and by the profound urban divides created by the highway. Furthermore, we must not neglect to mention the economic impact on the neighborhoods and businesses which will be strangled by the highway and whose accessibility and visibility will be greatly reduced.
– The pollution and noise, as well as the danger caused by the passage of a highway within the heart of a residential neighborhood, where religious, sanitary, educational and academic institutions are located, and whose pedestrian accessibility will become exceedingly complicated and sometimes impossible.
– The obvious flaws of the project as drawn, without a single consideration to the minimum setback of the highway from dwellings, without referring to the norms of road design, without considering the terrain in a detailed manner, causes numerous topographic obstacles and dismembers the internal circulation of the neighborhoods. These neighborhoods will be accessible by single lane roads only — which will be insufficient for the coming traffic. Also, a great number of accessibility problems will emerge, especially because of the slopes leading to tunnels and trenches. This will be the case of the covered trench on Charles Malek avenue which will make it very difficult to reach the entire Hekmeh neighborhood, the “Collège de la Sagesse”, the archbishopric and the Orthodox Hospital.
– Its impact on the general traffic of the Achrafieh, Rmeil and Medawar Regions, that will clearly cause new traffic obstructions, by directing massive car flows toward the Charles Helou, Charles Malek and Mar Dimitrios-Alfred Naccache avenues, which are all already highly saturated and cannot be widened, as well as on Independence avenue and Sassine Square.
– The number of parking that will be reduced by the hundreds (especially on top of the tunnel that extends from the Maronite Archbishopric to Salah Labaki street and all along the sides of the service roads) as the number of parking brought in by the project will not compensate for the ones that will be lost by its construction on parcels already used today as parking.
– The outrageous lack of a traffic study validating the usefulness of the project.The current project was designed in the 1950’s according to now obsolete principles. Lately, no specific traffic study was done in a detailed way or on the larger scale for the whole of Beirut region and no contemporary alternative has ever been studied.
– The opaque method — disrespectful of citizens’ rights — by which the project has been decided and driven, without consulting the local citizens affected by the project, without concerting or informing the public in a proper way.
– The illegal procedures, that are and keep happening by ignoring the obligation to do an impact study, requested by the Ministry of Environment, before any launching of the project. The impact study was launched well after the start of the project, and even then, only under the pressure of civil society. Even so, the expropriation procedures are still ongoing as well as statements of political support — which is a blatant breach of the law and of intellectual and moral honesty.
– The incoherence and opacity of the declared budget, which will necessarily be exceeded when considering the plots that still need to be expropriated. As a result, the total cost of the project, which is a kilometer long, and according to its current plans, should reach 150 million USD rather than the declared 55 million. This entails that laws will be breached once more by ignoring a number of regulations governing the fairness of expropriations, in order to reduce illegally the compensation costs, at the expense of local land owners and other stake-holders.
We declare our clear intention to keep this social, environmental, civic and urban cause away from the narrow personal, political and partisan considerations. But we ask all public servants, starting with past, current and future deputies of the Achrafieh, Rmeil, Medawar regions, as well as all involved — especially in environmental and social activities — to oppose the catastrophic Hekmeh-Turk axis project, and to support alternatives rather than its ineffective “improvements.”
We hope it is clear to all that we will always fight and mobilize for our right to live decently, for us and our children, and for the preservation of our endangered regions, and for our right to live in a dignified and qualitative environment. We remind all concerned individuals that the people are the source of all powers and that we shall not forget those who will chose to deceitfully oppose this humanitarian and noble cause.
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The Civil Coalition against the Highway Project “ Hekmeh-Turk” Axis (“Fouad Boutros” Road)