x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Making the capital pedestrian friendly

As the country invests to improve the quality of its roads and streets, it's worth remembering cars and lorries are not the only type of traffic that will be looking to benefit.

The UAE has invested heavily in infrastructure development projects in recent years. Research by Business Monitor International shows that the UAE is spending Dh213 billion on roads and bridges alone, projects that are both underway and in the pipeline.

These projects will enhance transportation infrastructure greatly, adding new ribbons of road to increase the country's commercial and tourism industries, and greatly expand business competitiveness. But there is at least one component of these roadwork upgrades that seems to have been overlooked: designs for kerbs and pavements that would make moving about without a car less stressful.

As The National reported yesterday, a lack of ramps and crossings, and safe pavements in some parts of the capital, can make negotiating streets with children in prams dangerous. While two metres is the minimum distance needed to insure the safety of people pushing a stroller in a pedestrian refuge island, sections between lanes of traffic are often much narrower.

Parents are not the only ones who find navigating without a car dangerous. People with disabilities - on crutches, in wheelchairs or with visual impairment - have it particularly bad when it comes to freedom of movement in the UAE. Gapping holes in pavements, obstructed sidewalks, construction sites that force pedestrians into oncoming traffic - all of these scenarios make it hard for the able-bodied to move around, let alone those who need extra time.

Help may be coming. The Urban Planning Council is working on creating more friendly roads for both parents with children and people with disabilities. Abu Dhabi's new urban streets design code puts pedestrians first, with plans to eliminate obstacles for foot traffic across the city. The next step would be to implement similar codes for buildings, schools and hospitals, so that people with disabilities would have ramps, doorways and lifts to move about more easily.

Implementing a new road code will take time given the large number of streets that need to be renovated to comply with the new guidelines. In the meantime, common sense and courtesy would go a long way to ensure that ramps and pavements are not dug up or blocked.

As the country invests to improve the quality of its roads and streets, it will be of critical importance to remember that cars and lorries are not the only type of traffic that will be looking to benefit.