New Waterfront bikeway creates haven for Beirut cycling enthusiasts

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A winding bikeway and a secluded path on Beirut’s reclaimed coastal land is proving to be a haven for bikers and pedestrians in a city where space and privacy are scarce.

In sight of the sea, groups of young people make their way down the paved bike and walking path, while just below curved concrete barriers is a pedestrian-only walkway by the water’s edge where couples can enjoy a private moment next to the sea spray and the sound of crashing waves.

On almost any evening of the week the area is bustling with bikers and walkers taking in the sea breeze and enjoying time away from the bustle of the city.

Doaa Mohammad says that, in contrast to the often chaotic streets of the city, the biking area is a peaceful escape.

“It is a very wide and very relaxing place,” says Mohammad, while walking with her boyfriend.

Supplying the majority of the wheels is Beirut by Bike, a popular bike rental store, which has expanded from a small shop targeting bikers touring the city to a major biking facility on the developing New Waterfront that extends the offerings of the Beirut Souks.

Like most of the man-made land off of the city’s coast the Beirut by Bike facility, near the BIEL convention center, is still under development.

A skateboarding facility with ramps and rails as well as a gated biking area are under construction. There may be mounds of dirt, sand and concrete blocks nearby but that doesn’t stop city residents from recognizing the area’s assets.

In a crowded city there are few outdoors public places to enjoy a private moment with a friend, and there are even fewer where you can have large amounts of space for yourself. The bike complex has begun to offer both.

“These kinds of activities in Beirut are unavailable,” says 20-year-old Mario Tabet, on a ride with a friend on a recent Tuesday afternoon.

He says while he would like to see the development of more city life, such as cafes and shops near the paths, he loves a bike-friendly area and comes at least twice a week.

“There’s much fewer people here and it’s very well supervised,” Tabet said.

Biking on a crowded night on the Ain al-Mreisseh Corniche often involves dodging the crowds of people and street sellers that take to the walkway in the evening. Many other bike rides around the city require braving traffic, like the late night rides that have become popular, or early morning starts.

But at Beirut by Bike, LL5,000 an hour rents a bike and a safe place to ride it on the expanded waterfront.

The company, which works closely with the Solidere, began as a club to promote cycling in the city more than a decade ago. It now hosts a variety of charity events and family activities including a yearly treasure hunt.

Biking areas north of the city might compete for top rides, “but in Beirut, this is the best place,” Tabet says.

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