Abu dhabi // Pedestrians are being urged to take full advantage of new footbridges in the Tourist Club area after many have been seen dodging traffic on newly widened, one-way roads. While many residents are using the three bridges, some are crossing at street level on roads recently converted to up to seven lanes of traffic. "It is a major concern because this affects their safety and reduces the capacity of the road," said Atef Garib, of Abu Dhabi Municipality. "We encourage them, especially in this nice weather, to use the pedestrian bridge."
A particularly dangerous place to jaywalk is on 10th Street, between Hamdan Street and Meena Road, where there is a constant stream of vehicles using six lanes and only one small rubber speed bump to slow them down. The other bridges are on 12th Street, near Hamdan Street and the Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society. Nearly 200 pedestrians were killed in Abu Dhabi between March and November this year, according to police figures.
In 2007, 2,022 pedestrians were hit by vehicles in the UAE, an increase of more than 16 per cent from 2006. Three more bridges are planned in the area as part of an improvement plan for Salam Street that will see the road turned into an expressway featuring a series of underpasses and overpasses. Mr Garib said fines for jaywalking, which were increased from Dh50 (US$13.50) to Dh200 in March, could be enforced if people continued to ignore the bridges.
"If we did find that the problem is still occurring we will ask the police. Sometimes, especially young people, pedestrians feel they can run quickly with no problem and this is a problem. The bridges are for their safety and to improve the network." Major Ahmed al Neyadi, a spokesman for the traffic department of Abu Dhabi Police, said officers did their best to educate pedestrians and hand out fines to offenders. But it was difficult to change pedestrian behaviour because of the emirate's mix of nationalities from countries with varying road standards and traffic safety cultures.
Planners complain that pedestrians do not make enough use of numerous underpasses in the city, choosing to jaywalk instead. The municipality plans to place cameras in underpasses, linked to its traffic control centre and police control rooms, to make them safer. Pedestrians said the bridges were good for safety but walking up the flights of stairs could be an inconvenience. "I am in a hurry," said Hamed, 60, from Jordan, after walking across a busy 10th street. "It is too high to go up and down. Yes, it is more safe to use the bridge but for me when I am in a hurry it is a shorter distance downstairs."
Walking with his wife and their two small children, Gerardo Manzano, 44, agreed that it was too dangerous to cross at street level and said he was grateful for the footbridges. While he thought older people might struggle to climb up to the bridge, for him "it's worth the hike actually because safety is foremost". In addition to the bridges for the Salam Street project, 32 more are planned for the emirate, 20 of which will be on Abu Dhabi island.
The municipality has put out a tender for contractors to work on the bridges, Mr Garib said. They are expected to be air-conditioned and wheelchair-accessible. Two are expected to be built on Corniche Road near the public beach, while there will be bridges linking Khalifa City with Al Raha Mall, in Shahama, Musaffah and Baniyas. From March to June, police in Abu Dhabi fined 3,814 jaywalkers, compared with 247 in the same months in 2007.