x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pedestrians on Abu Dhabi streets must be protected

I returned to an Abu Dhabi with a considerable number of pedestrians, and found many of them running the same gauntlet I once did - scaling high curbs, strolling alongside giant, off-roading vehicles and risking their lives to get to the elusive other side.

Walking is an activity I have never naturally gravitated towards. It's not that I do not enjoy activity; I have always preferred to exercise rigorously and play sports, and tend to take it easy otherwise.

The only time I embark on a lengthy stroll is when the setting and surroundings - a white-sand beach, a green park - inspire a hike.

Walking in and around big cities has never appealed to me, and this is in no small part due to the fact that I grew up in the not-so-pedestrian-friendly cities of San Diego and Abu Dhabi. Spending a significant time car-less in each of them, I was forced to tackle their tough pedestrian terrains.

This, at times, felt like running a gauntlet - pavements suddenly and mysteriously ending as if I was in a walker's horror movie, being forcibly diverted along dangerous, busy roads where it felt as though I was creating a new, ultra-slow lane, and having to play a real-life game of Frogger by avoiding cars topping 120 kilometres per hour.

None of it made for enjoyable city explorations, because I never regarded these jaunts as jolly undertakings. But my perception shifted when I first set foot in San Francisco. The metropolis's urban authority has taken into account pedestrians, bikers and even wheelchair-users in the street plans.

Low, accessible curbs with ramps, wide sidewalks, clearly designated bicycle lanes and streets closed off to vehicles - all this encourages residents to leave their cars at home or forgo purchasing one in the first place. Traffic and pedestrians flow in harmony there, dispelling my belief that walking in a city is like being in battle.

I eventually returned to a more populated Abu Dhabi, now with a considerable number of pedestrians, and found many of them running the same gauntlet I once did - scaling high curbs, strolling alongside giant, off-roading vehicles and risking their lives to get to the elusive other side.

This is not to say the pedestrian issue has not been addressed. Nine new footbridges have been constructed around the city at crossing hot spots, offering pedestrian a safe passage to the other side.

Police are also coming down hard on motorists who don't give pedestrians the right of way, with threats of a Dh500 fine and six black points per incident.

Jaywalkers are also being slapped with a Dh200 fine when caught crossing at undesignated areas.

The waterfront development along the Abu Dhabi Corniche offers pedestrians and cyclists alike scenic walks and rides, with similar projects around the city in the pipeline.

The Abu Dhabi Executive Council, as well as the Urban Planning Council (UPC), have promised to address pedestrian and cyclist safety concerns, with the UPC incorporating safety measures into its street-design manual.

These efforts have already borne fruit - the number of pedestrian deaths in the first half of this year dropped 20 per cent compared to the same period last year. Yet, 31 pedestrians died on the capital's roads this year because many of the same obstacles still remain. Changes must come quick and fast to ensure road safety and encourage Abu Dhabi residents to take to their feet.

 

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National