x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Parking problems: the space race

The National ventures into the most notorious blackspots to find out how drivers cope when there is nowhere to park.

While new parking laws should ease chaos in the long term, three reporters recount their current daily troubles
From today, there is a new parking regime in Abu Dhabi. Drivers were given a week to get used to new parking areas installed in the capital's downtown area, where finding a parking space can be a frustrating exercise. But now drivers who don't feed the parking meters or overstay the time they've paid for will face fines if they are caught by parking officers. Leniency has been promised to begin with, and parking officers will be educating motorists with brochures rather than parking tickets.
In Dubai, parking meters have been a fact of life for quite some time and now drivers are faced with the additional cost of paying for parking in some of the city's large malls. Three drivers share their experiences with parking in the UAE and contemplate whether the measures that have been taken to improve the nation's parking woes will ease the anxiety or create more instances of parking rage.
Have you ever tried to find a parking space in the busy Abu Dhabi enclave known by taxi drivers as Tanka Mayiah? Sandwiched between Muroor Road and Airport Road, it's a mini-grid lined with buildings that are mixed-use business and residential blocks. Beneath my apartment is White Wave Furniture and a range of businesses, from men's hairdressing to ladies' abayas sit cheek by jowl in my street. All these shops have at least three floors of flats above them. Most people who live in these flats drive cars. Plenty of customers drive cars too.
Tanka Mayiah is a microcosm of Abu Dhabi's parking issues - cars lining both sides of narrow streets, parking spaces created in a line down the middle of the road, Mexican stand-offs when two cars travel in opposite directions down tight thoroughfares, further congestion caused by drivers who stop outside shops and honk for service. My policy for finding a parking space is to do one lap around my block and if I cannot find a space, I park on a vacant lot behind a mosque a few hundred metres away. Sometimes I haul my SUV onto a small, unpaved kerb in front of White Wave Furniture if another big car hasn't beaten me to it. Otherwise it is quicker to park behind the mosque and walk.
Every time I have a visitor, I am asked how I can stand to live here, especially if they have risked their own mental health and paintwork to find a spot. At least I can walk to work. This saves me enduring a nightly game of parking lotto, with the bonus round of "Will my car fit through that tiny gap?". I've become more zen about my parking predicament, but I am worried about two new buildings rapidly nearing completion nearby. Neither one has an underground car park. Why these buildings were even approved without parking is a mystery. There will be more drivers fighting for the same parking spaces but nobody seems to have thought of this.
Unlike the city centre, there is still some space in my neighbourhood perfect for building a car park on. There is no point installing parking meters - people will just ignore them and risk fines, so instead of plonking more flats in an already densely populated area, a couple of multi-storey car parks would make sense. I'd happily pay a reasonable annual fee for a secure space. While hit-and-run dents still happen in mall car parks with giant spaces, it happens all the time in Tanka Mayiah. Many a time I've returned to my car to find a scratch, scrape or dent that was not of my creation. It is tiresome. I like living in a lively part of town and I don't expect to park right at my front door. But more forward planning by the authorities for future development in high density areas of Abu Dhabi is imperative. Public transport is part of the solution, but people still like the convenience of a car - and integrated public transport for Abu Dhabi is still a long way off. The pockets of gridlocked parking in poorly planned parts of Abu Dhabi will only worsen without decisive action. * Georgia Lewis
At the risk of sounding smug, parking is one of the few areas of my life which has become relatively stress-free since moving from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. While some pockets of town get congested, which I encounter on a daily basis, I've figured out where to park and where to avoid. Areas that used to be the stuff of parking nightmares, particularly during peak hours, such as Deira and Bur Dubai, have become accessible again thanks to the Dubai Metro. And while some colleagues who need to drive there complain about trying to find a space at notorious locations as Dubai Municipality on the Deira side of the Creek, I don't find myself travelling to those areas very frequently during peak hours and do my best to avoid scheduling meetings there unless absolutely necessary. Last Thursday my driving day began at 5.30am in the basement car park of my Dubai Marina apartment block - where I have a permanent space for my car as part of my tenancy contract - something many Abu Dhabi residents can only dream about. Parking for visitors can be difficult but with valet parking services available at Dubai Marina Yacht Club and a multi-storey car park at Dubai Marina Mall, which is never full, for those able and willing to walk there are options. Limited parking is also available on the streets although police can be spotted fining any violators daily. So off I head to Safa Park for morning training, to be met with ample parking at all four gates. Training complete by 7.20am, I return home, park my car, and leave for work again an hour later at the API tower on Sheikh Zayed Road, next to the Fairmont Hotel. This is where my parking woes begin - we do not have parking facilities in the building and the area is notoriously congested throughout the day. But for those willing to park away from the front of the building, there are options. As always, I get stuck in traffic which snakes along the service road from the Fairmont Hotel past API Tower towards the Crowne Plaza. The lazy commuter in me always hopes there will be a space outside the building and so, most mornings, I indulge in the queue of cars coveting that one space out front. Along this service road there are limited, paid parking spaces governed by the RTA. Parking meters accept pre-paid parking cards or coins, and a new facility allows drivers to pay for their parking by SMS or online. Unfortunately I have never been lucky enough to find a space and last Thursday it was no different. After spending around 10 minutes attempting to reach the road which runs behind our office, parallel to Sheikh Zayed Road, I finally park my shiny red Toyota Yaris across the road in a large sandy lot which offers plenty of free spaces. An RTA-serviced car park lies in front of that, closer to the road, with ample space for daily charges of Dh10 or Dh1 per hour, provided you remember to keep running out to get your ticket. I park in the sand and cross the busy road to the office. It's not that far and the weather has cooled slightly so I barely break a sweat. At midday I'm sent on an assignment to Dubai Mall where a new sweet shop has opened. Dubai Mall has a huge car park and so finding a space is not a problem. Remembering where I left it, is usually more of an ordeal. Luckily the mall's developers had the good sense to install machines at each level which print off tickets telling you where you have parked. And on Thursday I remember to use it. * Leah Oatway
If one lives and drives in Abu Dhabi then the last thing they need is a Hummer H2 - I moved to Al Ain rather than give up my beloved beast of a vehicle. For the six months I lived and worked in Abu Dhabi before coming to Al Ain, I should have been given numerous parking tickets for parking on the kerb and moving violations for jumping it. I admit this as it was never done out of disrespect for the law, but truly due to necessity. Perhaps this is a habit that I learnt in Saudi Arabia, where traffic is even more chaotic and not as organised as it is in the UAE, where kerb hopping is a regular occurrence. In Saudi, no one seems to bat an eyelid. In fact, if the road is blocked, police will ask you to hop the kerb to clear the way for smaller vehicles. Imagine entering a car park only to find that you cannot squeeze your Hummer between two cars, one of which is, naturally, illegally parked. Reversing into the space is out of the question because there's a line of cars forming behind you cursing you for driving a huge car. When driving a 4x4, the easiest, least time-consuming and even the most considerate option, is to hop the kerb. Despite it being illegal, it does give me a secret inner delight to have the ability to do that, to the scorn of drivers and to the joy of children who happen to be watching. For Abu Dhabi Traffic Police officers who may be reading this, I ask that if you see a Hummer mounting a kerb, take into consideration that it is partially out of necessity and partly because very few officers actually enforce the parking laws. Then there are those who straddle two parking spots. Had I purchased a Yaris, I would have no gripe as these cute little cars fit anywhere. Very little gets my goat (and I can fit a few in the back of the Hummer) more than small car drivers who don't park properly. Due to the width of the H2 and its large turning radius, I sometimes cannot get into parking spots, and if I can, forget about opening the door and squeezing out, even with my slim physique. Should I climb out the window? Certainly not. I just shake my head and look for the nearest kerb to park on. * Essam al Ghalib