The streetscapes, and just plain streets, of Tehran.

Tehran is a dusty desert, or desert-like, city. As you might expect, the predominating colours are browns and beiges; apartment blocks, mountains, and office blocks alike. All with the odd khaki green tree or small green area (playground or small park, for instance) interspersed.

The city is both ringed and crisscrossed by quite massive, sometimes double-story, motorways with names like the Shirazi or the Sadr Expressways.

You can get from the airport in the far south, to the suburbs of the far north, by the ring motorways. You can get downtown and across-town likewise by these motorways.

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The road network is solid, to be sure. There is not a part of Tehran that cannot be reached on quite modern, quite well-repaired, roads. Motorways are often 4-6 lanes (note my earlier cautionary note that lanes are marked but are more an ideal than a reality; traffic makes its own lanes). For the most part, roads are also well lit. Overall you get a sense that the town planners, who have let construction go ahead with quite some wild abandon, have chosen to put their energies into the road network.

I also feel, but give me a year or so to really test this hypothesis out, that the road network is also far more ‘invested in’ than the public links such as bus, rail, light rail. Having said that, bus stations on major roads have their own lanes, and the subway is expanding to the far north, presumably at considerable expense because of the need to scale the mountainside.

Testimony to the very strong network of major roads, is that the majority of little side-streets manage to stay quiet.

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A quiet side street, as promised (note the blue and yellow ‘cupped hands’ box on the right-hand street corner? Ubiquitous boxes for taking charity donations from passers-by. Sadly, nobody walks anywhere. So one gets the feeling the boxes might mostly be empty. But the spirit that puts them there is a good and charitable one).

The number of cars here in Tehran is truly staggering. Just consider, while sitting idly behind the wheel on a motorway wondering how eight lanes formed in the normal space of three, how many cars are alongside you at any moment, and realise there are at least 6 million more. The bulk of the cars are either locally designed and produced (the Saipa, for example), foreign designed but locally assembled (Peugot 206, for example), Asian-made and imported (Toyota, Kia, Hyundai, Nissan and Mazda all feature highly), the very odd luxury European vehicles (BMW, Mercedes) in the good neighbourhoods, and even a couple of very kitschy, but bloody well maintained, American ‘Shah-era’ American cars like the odd ’67 Chevy or Buick.

The lack of cars from Europe, except the locally-assembled Peugots, is a part of the price the average Farhad pays for sanctions. The winner though, from sanctions that hamper European cars being imported, is the South Koreans and Japanese. You have never seen so many Kia and Hyundai in one place outside their own yards in Seoul and Tokyo. People go with the car-makers who have a dealer here, and genuine spare parts, and solid service. Drivers and their cars do hard yards in Tehran, and need good service to back them up. The lack of legitimate options for a BMW, Mercedes, or Volvo dealer means the East Asian car-makers are making a killing in this enormous car market.

More power to them.

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