We are always getting into a snit about Bahrain’s terrible traffic situation and poor road manners. As we approach 2019, however, it’s not only the use of the roads that we should be moaning about, but the misuse of our pavements too. It used to be that Bahrain’s busiest pavements were periodically taken over by hawkers – usually fish retailers, who set up makeshift shops on overturned crates in front of hypermarkets selling the same stuff in more hygienic conditions. The illusion that they were cheaper and fresher usually commanded a good custom for them.
Then there were small shops that set out railings of clothes, rolls of textiles and moveable shelves of bric-a-brac in front of their stores during working hours, effectively cluttering the pathways and narrowing roads. Or, worse, commandeered the road in front of their shops by placing obstacles to prevent parking except for their chosen customers. Now we have a new menace – cars that climb over the pavement ledge and park arrogantly on the footpaths, forcing pedestrians to risk life and limb by jaywalking on busy roads. It’s a fairly common sight especially where there are clusters of restaurants – near the Ibn Sina Hospital (where it looks like the culprit is a second hand car dealer who displays his best vehicles in front of his shop and not passing customers) and in Umm Al Hassam, for example.
Do we obey the rule to not cross yellow line zones until there is a clear exit for us? No. That’s why we face gridlock all the time. Do we double park in front of Karak chai shops and leave our hazard lights blinking, pretending to have had a breakdown instead of a chai break? You bet. And now, we also damage the footpaths by driving over them in our SUVs … why park just five minutes away when you can break rules and park literally at the doorstep of the shop you want to go to, nuzzling the cash counter with your headlights?
The most ignored rule after the pavement parking one is the usurping of bus stop space. People think that this piece of roadside is theirs at least till the next bus comes but when the public transport vehicles trundle in, alas, the car owner, who has popped out is never on hand to move his/her vehicle. The result is that the bus will awkwardly straddle busy traffic lanes to take in and let out passengers, causing a traffic jam. How can we expect a good public transport system when we don’t respect the facilities created for the smooth running of services?
Bahrain’s road planners are meticulous in their planning of roads and corresponding pavements but once the planning is done, it is up to the public to safeguard the functionality of these traffic spaces. As we rush through the motions of our daily routine, it would be too much to ask any but the hardiest traffic activist to call offenders to order or call their aberrations to the notice of the police. But, as Gandhi said (although I doubt he had pavement misuse in mind), we can all strive to be the change we want to see and stop making these mistakes ourselves. To begin with, give back the pavements to the pedestrians, perhaps?