x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Look through a pedestrian's eyes - the biggest menace is motorists

The view from the footpath is not always pleasant. Sometimes the footpath dwindles to a mish-mash of compacted earth, gaping holes and ragged concrete.

The Motoring team is united in a love of cars. Daily, we discuss everything from how to find a good mechanic in Abu Dhabi to whether the new Mini Coupe looks cool or has a roofline that looks like a comb-over. But we all live close enough to The National HQ to walk to work. This helps reduce our carbon footprint, offsets our collective addiction to Tandoori Corner butter chicken - and when we do get behind the wheel in the name of duty, it's not a chore. It also means that we can climb down from our high horsepower and see the world through the eyes of a pedestrian.

The view from the footpath is not always pleasant. Sometimes the footpath dwindles to a mish-mash of compacted earth, gaping holes and ragged concrete. Some shops in my neighbourhood have kindly laid out swathes of old carpet where a footpath should be but a carpeted city is not practical. The new timers on crossings along the Abu Dhabi Corniche will help keep pedestrians alive. But there are other pedestrian crossings where the light for pedestrians stays green for such a short period of time, you need the speed of Usain Bolt to get to the other side.

The technology exists for traffic lights with crossings to be fitted with sensors so pedestrians can cross when there is no traffic around and motorists don't have to wait at red lights for non-existent pedestrians. If this became the norm at intersections, it would be a win for everyone. But the biggest menace facing pedestrians in the UAE is motorists. Drivers are required by law to stop at pedestrian crossings but drivers seldom pay attention to the black and white stripes on the road. Some even willfully speed up, lest an errant walker makes them 10 seconds late.

When I drive, I routinely risk being rear-ended because I obey this law and let people, some of whom look like they have been waiting to cross the road since the dawn of time, cross the road and live to tell the tale. This usually leads to the driver behind me blasting the horn, the most startling instance being in Dubai in 2006 when I was honked for letting a mother with a pram cross the road. When I worked in a Dubai, one of my colleagues limped to his desk. His foot injury was the result of him kicking a car in frustration as it failed to stop on the crossing outside the office. On the same crossing, I was nearly killed by a school bus driver who showed scant respect for my life or the lives of the children on board by driving at speeds ill-suited to an ancient Tata bus.

More underpasses and pedestrian bridges will help. And sometimes pedestrians take insane risks rather than walking a bit further to the nearest set of lights, underpass or bridge. But it is up to drivers to respect pedestrians and stop at zebra crossings rather than treating footsloggers as nuisances. It is also up to the police to enforce this law and fine more motorists for ignoring crossings. We may live in a car-mad culture but those who choose the healthy, zero-emissions mode of transport that is walking deserve to be kept safe. motoring@thenational.ae