During the past few months, there has been major development in Heliopolis streets. There is continuous work aiming to solve the problem of the crowded streets citizens are suffering from. The development plan in Heliopolis involves implementing 5 bridges. In an attempt to provide more space to accommodate traffic flow by expanding the streets and making use of the tram lane.
The construction of new bridges, under the development plan of Heliopolis, has been on since September 2019. The new bridges will also link the area to major highways, connecting Cairo with some of the new cities under construction.
On the other hand, actions like removing the tram line, trees and widening the streets has outraged the many. But what are the consequences of developing Heliopolis?
According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, bridges to be created are: Al-Merghani intersection with Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq Street, Al-Merghani intersection with Al Sabaa Omarat, Al-Nuzha Street intersection with Salah Salem above the Al-Galaa Bridge, and Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq Street intersection with Othman bin Affan, and finally the Maidan Bridge.
Red: New Bridges in Heliopolis
Yellow: “Al Thawra” street will be one direction heading to Sweis road
Black: “Hussein Kamal” street beside, Almaza airport, will be one direction coming from Suez road
Engineer Mohamed El-Shorbagy, project manager of Orascom, (responsible for the Hussein Kamel sector – Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq and Al-Merghani) declared that they are adjusting Hussein Kamel Road to be 5 lanes instead of 2. Then the width of the streets will range from 17.5 to 22 meters. Moreover, the street will be one direction for those coming from Al-Thawra Street to Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq Road. He also added that they are modifying street levels and removing the central island to expand the street.
Origin of urban planning in Heliopolis
“Heliopolis” means the city of the sun in the old Egyptian language. This is clear in the urban planning of the street network and intersections creating nodes. Each node acts as a center where the streets emerge from, like the concept of the sun radiating its rays. Moreover, the city’s design resembles European park cities. This appears in the straight streets, which facilitated transportation by the tram as an easy and interesting way of experiencing the road.
Furthermore, the green areas played an important role in enhancing the quality of life in Heliopolis. Besides its major environmental importance, open green areas created Heliopolis’ visual identity and offered a unique gathering space for the citizens.
While some locals are optimistic about the new bridges and how it will ease the traffic, others got a lot of concerns. People became worried Heliopolis as they know it is losing its identity. The current removal of trees and green areas to make room for cars faced major public outrage. Also, the destiny of all this wood from the cut trees is up for question.
Responding to this, Minister of Environment, Yasmine Fouad, tried to calm down the public. She declared that advanced equipment that removes any tree from its roots, will then replant trees again. This is with the aim to preserve these important trees and cultural appearance.
Ongoing construction work consequences
The street width debate has been occurring for a long time among urban planners and traffic engineers in different parts of the world. Is it better to widen the streets and increase the street capacity or to narrow it down?
Inside the city, the streets are not supposed to have the characteristics of a highway. The neighborhood street standard varies from 3 to 6 meters. Those standards put into consideration the safety of the drivers as well as the pedestrians. Increasing the street width tremendously leads to many accidents. In addition to decreasing the user experience quality in terms of air pollution, visual urban space and walkability experience. Several countries have already tested building bridges in city centers and experienced the failure of such actions. Read more Norman Foster in Egypt “Motorways are becoming extinct like Dinosaurs”
Since many inhabitants who live in the area cross the street everyday and are used to walking, contructing bridges as well as widening Heliopolis streets will make walking an unpleasant experience. Also crossing the street is becoming a risky action to take.
Should we bring back the tram?
Furthermore, the idea of the tram removal was up for debate. Cairo implemented the network of tram lines in the late 19th century. These became neglected to start in the 1970s up till now. Recently there has been a lot of suggestions about the revitalization of the tram as a traditional way of transportation. Suggesting that shifting the focus to enhancing walkability and pedestrian experience instead of prioritizing cars can offer better solutions.
On the other hand, the response was that leaving the old tram line with the intersections would have added more crowds in this area. Therefore, the decision was not to run the line again and to remove the railways to expand the streets.
Expanding the streets and building bridges doesn’t only affect the walkability, it also promotes using more cars since the other options are not encouraged in such scenarios such as walking, biking or using the tram. Accordingly increasing the number of cars tremendously which leads to increasing car emissions. Trees in urban spaces fight against the CO2 gases produced by cars and purifies the air. Read why we need trees in our cities.
Another green approach was introduced after the outrage that faced cutting off the trees. Installing green walls within the new bridges is to take place for the first time in Egypt. The vegetation of the columns in the bridges can be a step towards fighting pollution. However, it cannot replace the cut trees along the streets.
Heliopolis has been always known as one of the best districts in Cairo and a highly desirable area to live in. Yet, the inhabitants were used to its unique profile which is gradually changing. Subsequently, the possibility of many deciding to move out is high. Also, the neighborhood might not become attractive anymore for potential residents that will, unfortunately, lead to property devaluation.
Participatory planning is an urban planning technique that involves citizens in the strategic and management phase. At this moment, there are a lot of objections as there were not any means of communication with Heliopolis residents before starting this project. There should have been discussions with representatives from the neighborhood to reach a common ground.
Currently, solutions like providing new open green spaces for the public can be considered in the development plan. Furthermore offering public transportation alternatives as well as developing the neighborhood in a manner that prioritizes pedestrian experience are much needed.