ABU DHABI // Twenty-six people have already been killed this year crossing roads in the emirate, new police figures show. The release of the information followed the death of an elderly tourist on Corniche Road that has raised fresh questions about the safety of pedestrians on Abu Dhabi's streets. The tourist, a Frenchman in his 70s, was run down on Wednesday morning while walking with his wife and a friend across a pedestrian crossing in front of the Marina Cafe. Police said the driver, an Emirati, abandoned his car behind Marina Mall and fled on foot, but was arrested a short time later. Police released figures yesterday confirming that pedestrian deaths were the most common kind of road fatalities in Abu Dhabi this year, accounting for almost a third of the total.
From Jan 1 to yesterday - just 71 days - 97 people died in various kinds of road accidents in the emirate. Twenty-six were hit by cars. Injured pedestrians totalled 117, of which 25 were seriously hurt. The problem is not new. Last year, 2,022 pedestrians were hit by vehicles across the country, a 16 per cent increase over 2006, according to statistics from the Ministry of Interior. There were 90 pedestrian deaths that year, a 20 per cent increase from two years earlier. In comparison, 136 pedestrians were killed in New York in 2007, according to statistics released by the city's department of transportation, although the city has a population of just over eight million, more than nine times that of Abu Dhabi. Last year, 88 pedestrians were killed in Hong Kong, according to government figures, while news reports said 56 died in the US city of Chicago, the Chicago Tribune reported. In Toronto, 27 pedestrians died during the whole of last year, according to the Toronto Star. And in all of the UK, 644 pedestrians were killed in 2007, The Guardian reported.
In Abu Dhabi, many motorists simply do not stop or slow down at crossings despite potential fines of Dh500 (US$136) and six black points on their licences if they fail to allow people to pass safely. Since the beginning of the year, police have issued 643 tickets for this violation, but many people still say they are fearful of crossing the street. Glenn and Shanyll Haywood, 39 and 29, visiting from Australia, said friends had warned them to be especially wary of cars making U-turns. "They told us that people tend not to stop at crosswalks when they see people waiting to cross," said Mrs Haywood. Ford Desmoineaux wrote to The National's website to complain that the capital's traffic signalling system required "complete replacement and updating". He called for speed bumps to be installed on Corniche Road, similar to those on Jumeirah Beach Road in Dubai, to force motorists to slow down.
Ida Stilling, 24, and her mother, Gitte, from Denmark, said unlit crossings were particularly dangerous "as people here just don't slow down or stop at them". "There should be speed humps before pedestrian crossings," said Ms Stilling. Others say motorists are not solely to blame, and that pedestrians place themselves in danger by failing to use footbridges and underpasses. There are currently 30 pedestrian subways in the capital. In January, the Abu Dhabi Traffic and Patrols Department fined more than 3,000 jaywalkers as part of a week-long traffic safety campaign. Last March the Ministry of Interior raised the fine for jaywalking from Dh50 to Dh200, saying the low penalty had failed to deter people from crossing roads illegally.
"Many pedestrians don't wait for the light to turn green for them to cross," said Danny Ayoub, 17, a Lebanese student crossing Corniche Road in front of the newly built public beach yesterday. "Either they are in a hurry or find that the lights don't change often enough." Speaking after running across a part of the same road, Adel Kharbouch, 16, another Lebanese student, said: "In the daytime it's safe enough in Abu Dhabi to cross the street, but at night I wouldn't dare do what I just did." Many pedestrians also fail to use public footbridges, even when they are nearby. Hareesh Babu, 38, a mechanical engineer, was one of the few pedestrians yesterday using the newly built pedestrian bridge in front of Abu Dhabi Mall. Most people were using the crossing in front of the mall designated for the handicapped. "The bridge is safer to use," he said. "The lights in front of the mall don't stay green long enough for pedestrians to cross."
Other pedestrians said they were "too lazy" to climb the stairs leading to the bridge. Abu Dhabi Municipality recently said it was close to approving locations and designs for 36 new footbridges. It said it chose the locations based on police statistics on pedestrian-related accidents and a study showing areas with high levels of pedestrian traffic. * With additional reporting by Haneen Dajani