|Tehran and the challenges of a metropolis in the millennium||
In today’s world of indispensable time and inevitable money issues, where terms like global village, dialogue among civilizations and ‘internet’ are fast becoming causal words of everyday conversation, exactly what are those fundamental factors that make an individual refer to a city as ‘my city’?
Tehran, the capital and largest metropolis of Iran is a very crowded and highly modern city which is home to a population of 8,429,807 people. Also considered as one of the largest cities in Western Asia and the world’s 19th, it was subject to mass migration of people from all around Iran at the beginning of the 20th century.
Tehran stands as the beating heart of the country’s economy, culture and education. About 30% of Iran’s public-sector workforce and 45% of large industrial firms are located in Tehran and almost half of these workers work for the government. Therefore it is not surprising that this very happening city suffers from the side-effects of urban and industrial modernization such as unemployment, inflation, traffic congestion, air and sound pollution, all of which could easily and in the least result in serious health issues, stress and its minor and major consequences.
In Tehran, almost everyone owns a car or is somehow an aspirant car owner, a dream which is made easy these days with payment in installments. There are so many cars and there are just not enough parking places. The majority of Iranians are good drivers but the main issue is not talent but merging it with abidance of rules and regulations and measures of safety. As in many parts of the world, most accidents here are caused by man error. Iran ranks first worldwide in terms of having the largest number of road accidents with 38,000 deaths and injuries per year. Currently, road accidents account for a majority of deaths in Iran.
The authorities are always on look for strategies to reduce the city’s traffic by issuing timely yet strict driving and traffic rules, improvement of public means of transportation and increasing the awareness of the citizens in general about the dangers of traffic congestion, air pollution and safety for pedestrians and passengers alike.
Yes, driving in busy streets of Tehran can sometimes drive one crazy, particularly in the peak traffic hours. Tehran is big, modern and somewhat equipped for the conveniences and inconveniences of a twenty first century living and its kindness and generosity grows on one as we grow into its hardships and challenges alike.
It does take more than a birthplace and taxes to earn one’s rights to and in a city. In the end, like a good friend whose friendship we value when it stands the test of time, a city becomes ours when are moved to contribute to its life as much as it does to ours.
Air pollution in the city of mountains
Surrounded by a chain of mountains in the North, Tehran is a city of city of many seasons and reasons. On a clear day, perhaps after a night of constant rainfall or after the snow meltdown and a dash of rainbow across the sky, if you are lucky you can see the peak of the famous mount Damavand standing tall, persistent and spectacular as it watches over the city. But thanks to Tehran’s air pollution the summit is rarely visible. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to assess the clarity of air in the city based on the visibility of Mount Damavand.
As any other large metropolitan area, Tehran is challenged by numerous issues of the ever evolving modern and industrial world and one of them is of course, the major problem of air pollution. Often covered by smog, breathing becomes difficult, particularly for those who are not used to the ambience of the city.
In addition to heavy traffic congestion due to use of private cars and taxis, the industries located on the outskirts of this industrial city and Tehran’s busy Mehrabad International Airport located in the west also contribute majorly to the contamination of the air.
Odd as it may sound, the mountains of Tehran also play a role in its pollution. The massive Alborz mountain range shields the flow of the humid Caspian wind. As a result, thermal inversion that traps Tehran’s polluted air is frequently observed. The lack of humidity and clouds make Tehran a sunny city. The UV radiations then combined with the existing pollutants significantly raise the level of the ozone. In fact one of the urban landmarks in central Tehran is a giant air quality gauge.
The government has attempted to solve this issue through several measures in the past with a somewhat on and off success point. There is still the hope of improvement in the betterment of the city’s air with the enhancement of public transport systems and the rise in fuel prices due to the new subsidies reform plan since early 2011 which in return is expected to reduce air contamination. In addition to the much discussed Traffic Zone and odd-even regulations, taxis and buses are encouraged to convert from petrol engines to engines that run on compressed natural gas. Moreover, in an effort to raise public awareness about the dangers of air pollution, in addition to programs dedicated to the cause on radio and television, Pollution Indicator Boards are installed all around the city to monitor the current level of particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon monoxide (CO). The board also displays the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which is a general indication of air quality based on the measurements of the above-mentioned five pollutants. The Pollution Indicator Boards classify the level of each pollutant as safe, hazardous or dangerous.
The darling of Buses in Tehran: the Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT)
When it comes to convenient public transportation in Tehran, one always thinks of the bus and the subway. But when it comes to the question of the most convenient bus, the recently established BRT is an all-time favorite among the commuters of the city.
Officially inaugurated in 2008, the BRT like any of its brother and sister buses across the world aims at a system in which it could provide the near service quality of rail transit plus the affordability and flexibility of the bus transit. A special bus lane that allows the bus to operate separately and majorly skip the traffic without an interruption, makes the red colored BRT a popular choice among the citizens, particularly in the high traffic hours (7AM to 9AM & 4PM to 8PM).
Passengers can travel for 200 Tomans (roughly about 0.23 dollars) via the BRT special lines which travels very quickly from Azadi square (west of Tehran) directly to the East (Terminal-e-Shargh) and Imam Khomeini square (South of Tehran) directly to the North (Tajrish square) .
As of 2011, there is a network line of 100 kilometers dedicated to the BRT but the government plans to extend it to 300 Kilometers. It is also estimated about 1.8 million passengers travel on the BRT daily. As with the subway and normal buses, the men and women’s seat and queues are segregated. The contactless ticket validator, special air conditioning and convenient seats have made the BRT the top favorite of all public transportation systems.
Tehran Metro, the city’s underground heart
If you want to travel across Tehran and save on two inevitably crucial factors of a modern life, that being time and money in a cosmopolitan city, then it is suggested that you take the subway and experience the necessity of the underground scene of transportation.
Compared with industrial cities of the world, Tehran’s Metro is indeed a new metropolitan phenomenon; nevertheless one could say that it has been beautifully integrated into the city’s everyday life of transportation. Although construction of a metro system began a while before the Islamic revolution in 1979, due to the financial issues and the years of the imposed Iran-Iraq war, the first mass transit did not open until March 1999. Renovations and addition of escalators, air conditioning and elevators through the years have made the subway a convenient choice particularly in the summer and during the rush hours. On every train, the first and last carriages are reserved for women who do not wish to ride with men but women can still ride in other cars freely if they choose to do so. Although nine lines are eventually planned, Tehran Subway currently has four major operational lines since the new millennium and two more since 2007 that connect many stops within Tehran and its surrounding suburbs. It is estimated that an average of 1.26 million passengers per day commute via the metro. The transit is of course rapid and compared to taxi and bus fare it is quite cheap. Regardless of distance and destination, the ticket price is 120 Tomans for each journey which roughly amounts to 0.15 dollars.
Also, Modern and traditional Persian Art is displayed at every station in Tehran Metro, making the underground ambience pleasant, if not attractive to the commuters. Sometimes, one can see men or women with large bags moving from one carriage to another and offering to sell small items like artificial jewelry, candies, nuts, socks, etc. This usually happens in the women’s compartment and makes the subway ride an amusing one.
Taming traffic in Tehran
As an ever growing modern and industrial metropolis, though conveniently practical to its residents and despite being a very happening city in terms of art and culture, Tehran also has its particular downsides.
Tehran is one of the most polluted cities of the world and well known for its traffic jams which make commute across the city a challenge in the early hours of morning and evening, that being the rush hours.
When in autumn 2005 Tehran’s air pollution and safety of the residents became an issue of national crisis, the government began to take certain measures. In an attempt to reduce Tehran’s traffic congestion and air contamination, the government tested the odd-even scheme in order have more control on the street scene. According to this regulation cars which have number plates ending with odd numbers are allowed to travel in the central city and those with plates ending in even numbers can move on even days. The restricted zone is secured with cameras and violation of the rule can result in a fine of 13,000 Tomans (roughly 12.30 dollars) on an hourly basis.
After the success of initial trials, this system of traffic control is still functional. Of course, as previously tested in other large cities of the world, this efficient method has instigated a scheming of a different kind in those who find it hard to cope with this not so recent regulation: For example, it has been observed that sometimes people with better financial status have gone to the extreme of purchasing an alternate vehicle with odd or even-numbered plates in order to get across the city any day of the week.
Less traffic actually means less fuel and less fuel means a lesser or delayed loss of national investment.
1- Although Tehran has a capacity for 700,000 cars, there are currently more than 3 million cars on the streets of the capital.
2- As one of the cleanest and most convenient metro systems, Tehran has the longest metro line in the Middle East and currently the fourth longest in Asia.
3-Buses have been local means of transportation in the city since the early 1920’s but the trolley buses (electric bus) came into the scene in 1992 and to this day they operate across five routes.
4-There are quite a few streets in Tehran that are named after international personalities: such as the Edward Browne Street near the University of Tehran, Bobby Sand Street near the western side of the British embassy, Patrice Lumumba Street in western Tehran and Simon Bolivar Street in north west of the city.
5- Women are not legally permitted to ride motorcycles but then even young men who ride bikes are not very popular in the eyes of the public, perhaps because bikes are usually associated with delivery jobs and are notoriously responsible for most accidents. Also in a city like Tehran where almost everyone owns a car, riding a bike seems superfluous.
6- The city has been witness to first women bus and taxi drivers of Iran in the recent years. Female taxi drivers are believed to be more safe and convenient for female passengers particularly during the night.
When traffic can make you smile
While some individuals attempt to ignore, merely battle or nag about the everyday challenges of their job, a traffic policeman in the Philippines has chosen has chosen to dance his way through. Like any other good traffic cop, the fifty four year old Ramiro knows how to direct the traffic and keep it flowing. But there is a melodious touch to his commands as he does his job while dancing.
Pedestrians and drivers on the streets of Manila have been witness to the thrilling movements of the tasteful Ramiro as he brings some soul to the heavy traffic jams and a reason to smile for those who are stuck behind the red light. Drivers obey his order with a beaming face.
Ramiro who obviously loves his job and has been a cop for six years believes that he would not enjoy doing anything else for a living even though his extraordinary approach to his occupation is physical straining. Traffic in Manila could become quite congested at times and based on the reactions of drivers, passengers and pedestrians; a little street entertainment means no harm.
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