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The pell-mell excavations of the Dubai Tram project are an enduring feature of the city's landscape. Pawan Singh / The National
The pell-mell excavations of the Dubai Tram project are an enduring feature of the city's landscape. Pawan Singh / The National

Trams and trenches mean a heavy toll for the humble Dubai pedestrian

Having to navigate through these plastic passages is the best way to understand what little discernible wastah the Dubai pedestrian possesses.

The Belgians must have perfected the art of building stubbornly enduring trench systems in Flanders. A century later, they're at it in Dubai.

The Belgian builder Besix started digging up the roads of Jumeirah five years ago to install a tram. Today the excavations are still in place. It was quicker to liberate Europe.

This pell-mell Passchendaele of sandy excavations just will not go away. The sheer Western Front inertia of it is annoying enough when viewed from a car every day over a period of years.

But having to navigate through these plastic passages is the best way to understand what little discernible wasta the Dubai pedestrian possesses.

He treads a truly lonely footpath.

To underscore this point, the Belgians have installed walkways alongside the dual carriageway that are ever so slightly too narrow to walk through in the traditional forward motion.

Instead, you have to pirouette sideways as though arriving on the stage of an al fresco Swan Lake adaptation.

It was in such unedifying circumstances I found myself recently, prancing angrily among the bollards like an ageing Billy Elliot, cursing the Belgians and their overrated chocolates.

It had started out like most good chicken jokes as an attempt to cross from one side of the road to the other - the one side being Dubai Media City - the other being the Meridien Hotel.

But it ended in a no-man's-land of traffic management confusion as I was forced to retreat to my start line and catch a cab instead.

To be fair to the contractor, they have at least made a gesture towards installing temporary footpaths.

That is more than can be said for many of the roadworks that have been in place for several years around the city.

While property developers have received well-deserved criticism for leaving half-finished eyesore buildings abandoned after the 2008-09 crisis, those responsible for annoyingly persistent roadworks have somehow escaped censure.

Perhaps this is because the municipal officials periodically sent to inspect them have been lost in action before being able to file their reports. They probably have their own cenotaph somewhere in town.

It is a universal axiom of construction that the quality of roadworks, pedestrian access and other health and safety process has an inverse relationship to the scale and ambition of civil engineering in any given country at any given time.

Britain, home of Brunel and Telford, built some very impressive civil engineering projects back in the day. But the industrial revolution never really had the best of health and safety records.

Conversely, today Britain leads the world in health and safety, if not so much in very impressive civil engineering projects any more.

In Britain, the pedestrian is lord.

He strides purposefully towards the zebra crossing filled with the essential rightness of his right of way.

The Dubai pedestrian realises that if he were to do the same, he would simply be run over and then possibly reversed over and then cycled over by the pizza guy on his moped.

The Dubai pedestrian approaches the pedestrian crossing like the last oryx in Arabia sipping from a crocodile-infested watering hole where a Friday brunch for crocodiles has just commenced.

The Dubai pedestrian understands that the black and white stripes that represent safe passage in some other geographies offer no so such sanctuary here.

This week the developers are back, trying to catch the attention of the hordes descending on the Arabian Travel Market to promote their latest projects.

But as the city marches towards its next phase of development, can we at least spare a thought for us old-fashioned types who like to rely on our legs as far as possible when trying to cross the road?

Let the Belgians get on with the building and, please oh please, put the Brits in charge of the pedestrian access.

 

scronin@thenational.ae

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