ABU DHABI // Hundreds of pedestrians risk their lives every day at the exit of the new Sheikh Zayed Tunnel in the Tourist Club area, because a crossing was not reopened after construction.
Ananya Ramadesikan, 9, was one of those pedestrians until her father found out.
She and her mother would dash across seven lanes of traffic to attend dance classes. It saved them a one-kilometre walk over unfinished pavement.
"We feel it's difficult after the tunnel opened," said Vasumathi, Ananya's mother, who does not drive.
"If there were any bridge or underpass it would be easy to cross the road."
Ananya's father was furious when he found out and made her promise she would never jaywalk again.
But hundreds of others continue to take their chances.
A pedestrian crossing by the Adnoc station was closed when road construction started in 2007, when the centre of the road was barricaded. Even then, some would climb over the barriers to cross.
Now, all sorts - children, the elderly, cyclists - dodge speeding vehicles to avoid a 300-metre walk to the nearest junction over dirt lots covered with stones.
At 4.33pm on a recent weekday afternoon, The National counted more than 100 pedestrians crossing seven lanes of traffic in 30 minutes.
Even at 2.10pm on a quiet Tuesday there were 17 jaywalkers in five minutes. Mornings are even busier, residents say.
The municipality plans to open a pedestrian bridge at the tunnel exit in early June.
It will be one of several to open this year in line with Abu Dhabi's plan to make the city safer for pedestrians.
Giuliano Moret, a Swiss pilot, says the lag between opening the tunnel and completing the bridge and footpaths amounts to poor planning.
Mr Moret moved to the area 14 years ago because so many amenities were within walking distance. Everything changed when road construction started.
The unfinished and irregular footpaths from Mr Moret's building near the Porsche dealership to the nearest pedestrian crossing show how difficult it can be to walk in the area.
Side streets now have pedestrian crossings but their warning signs and signals are often hidden or obstructed by signs and lamp posts. Drivers form two lanes where there should be one, and most speed through crossings without checking for pedestrians.
In areas where walkways do exist, they are often too narrow for the number of pedestrians and the occasional cyclist.
"It gives me the impression they don't think about the pedestrian in the design stage," Mr Moret said.
This is a claim strongly rejected by the municipality.
"We are looking into suitable locations for new bridges in coordination with our strategic stakeholders Abu Dhabi Police, the Department of Transport and the Urban Planning Council," said a municipality spokesman.
Pedestrian crossings, better lighting, larger refuge islands and stricter enforcement of speed limits have helped to improve pedestrian safety on Sheikh Zayed Street, known as Salam Street before the upgrades.
"Abu Dhabi's new road design is taking lots of consideration for pedestrians," said Yaser Hawas, a traffic-safety expert at UAE University.
"With Salam Street specifically, I think part of its upgrade was pedestrian safety.
"Designing the street to be pedestrian-friendly is a very important aspect and I think they have done that already.
"Speed calming near the intersections is very important, enhanced night vision is also very important, and then probably the intensive monitoring that they are doing now through cameras to catch the violators with high speed."
Once roadworks are complete, the street is expected be much safer than it was in 2007.
Last week the Ministry of Interior announced pedestrian safety would be a leading priority for police across the country this year.
Pedestrian deaths accounted for nearly a fifth of the country's traffic fatalities last year and 25 per cent of Abu Dhabi road deaths in the first quarter of last year. Jaywalking carries a Dh200 penalty.
@ For more on ROAD SAFETY, visit thenational.ae/topics