ABU DHABI // Sweeping changes to the city's streets could place pedestrians and cyclists on an equal footing with motorists and make the streets more walkable. Among the proposals in a new street design manual to be released to government planners and private developers in the next two months, are new pedestrian crossings and crossroads, widened pavements shaded by trees and other landscaping, and narrower roads.
"Because all trips begin and end with a walk, walking should be made as comfortable as possible all year round," said Falah al Ahbabi, the general manager of the Urban Planning Council (UPC), which discussed the manual yesterday. The first changes will be seen on Khalifa bin Zayed Street, which will undergo significant modifications next year. Two other streets, Zayed the First and the aboveground portions of Salam Street, are also being considered to test other options.
The modifications are part of the UPC's goal of turning the capital into a world-class city under Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. A major element of the plan includes urban design and transport solutions such as a tram, metro and long-distance rail network that would rival those of many European cities. Traditional avenues with three lanes of traffic in either direction could be shrunk to two lanes apiece as pavements are widened to accommodate bicycle lanes and landscaping.
Bader al Qamzi, a manager of integrated planning at the Department of Transport, which is working with the UPC on the plans, said he hoped walking would increase from 14 per cent of all daily trips today to 35 per cent by 2030. "We consider bicycles and walking as valid transport modes," he said. Meanwhile, the divides on many streets will be removed to make way for rail corridors. New amenities for pedestrians will also include enlarged corner pavements, as the planners eliminate the dedicated right-turn lanes that drivers use to bypass traffic lights without stopping for pedestrians.
The moves represent the first real changes to Abu Dhabi's streets since they were built decades ago in an age dominated by the automobile. The biggest change could be alterations to Abu Dhabi's "superblocks", which are longer than standard city blocks and bounded by multi-lane arterial roads. They could be broken up by adding mid-block intersections as well as the extra zebra crossings, allowing better access and flow for both pedestrians and cars.
The straight, wide multi-lane roads, which encourage high speeds, are one of many factors contributing to an unusually high rate of traffic accidents in the country, officials say. According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation, 1,056 people were killed on UAE roads in 2007, a death rate of 37.1 for every 100,000 people. This compares unfavourably with a global average of only 18.8, suggesting the nation's roads are only slightly safer than those in Iraq or Afghanistan.
With the new rules, more rights of way should be provided to pedestrians, said Ibrahim al Hmoudi, an associate transport manager at the UPC. "We plan to create a clear street hierarchy, which is missing at the moment," he said. The new guidelines could be implemented on Abu Dhabi island in the next few years, when construction on tram and metro projects will result in many streetscapes being torn up, giving the agency an opportunity to revamp them.
"Over the next five to 10 years, you will see a revitalisation of the existing central business district area," said Bill Lashbrook, a UPC transport planning manager. The new zebra crossings and crossroads will be designed to take into account the habits of city dwellers in accordance with a street-by-street study by the UPC. "Left to their own devices, it looks like people want to cross every 108 metres," Mr Lashbrook said. "It tells you that they want to take a direct path, especially when the temperature is 50C."
The new measures may be felt immediately, however, in Abu Dhabi's new communities, being built by private developers on surrounding islands and on the mainland. The urban design manual will also apply to street planning in Al Gharbia and Al Ain, and will replace all existing standards, the UPC said. The manual was created after the agency reviewed more than 80 street design guidelines from various countries, including Germany, China, Japan and Canada.