Already, there is proof that the Salam Street roadworks will make a massive difference to Abu Dhabi.
Optimism on Salam Street
Complaining sometimes seems like the national pastime of the UAE. It doesn't take much for a conversation to degenerate into a festival of whining, especially when it comes to motoring in the Emirates - the traffic's terrible, the driving is abysmal, I couldn't find a parking space, I found a parking space but someone parked me in, I can't find a taxi when I need one, taxis only come by when I don't need one, I have too many speeding fines, the speeding fines aren't harsh enough, and so on.
I'm as guilty as anyone of ranting to anyone who will listen about the often sorry state of motoring here, but this time, I have come to praise rather than to condemn.
For almost two years, I have been following the progress of the Salam Street roadworks. I first wrote about this massive project in January 2009. I saw the grand plans for the project spread out over impressive desks in the Abu Dhabi Municipality offices and I reported on the businesses who have suffered as a result of the road closures.
For this week's lead story (mo4), I returned to the municipality to check on the progress and revisited the businesses. Sadly, one business, a pharmacy, had closed down. The other businesses were still going - they reported that it was a struggle but they had found new ways to keep and attract customers.
There were complaints, but there was optimism that their once-bustling inner city neighbourhood will be revived soon and their businesses will regain much-needed street exposure.
Already, there is proof that the roadworks will make a massive difference to Abu Dhabi. The opening of the Sheikh Zayed Bridge makes hitting the highway for Dubai and coming back into Abu Dhabi north a far more pleasant drive.
The road off the bridge, meanwhile, will take motorists right through to the tunnel that is being built underneath the city. You will be able to drive almost all the way from the bridge to the Corniche without encountering traffic lights. This should result in less traffic above ground - and for the businesses of Salam Street, it means that there will be more parking for their customers and better access to their shops. Driving around Salam Street, from Al Falah Street to the Corniche, may soon be a far less stressful experience.
Last week, I was out with a photographer to get pictures of the roadworks and we climbed on to the roof of an old building, abandoned save for a few struggling shops and a less than salubrious apartment, to get an aerial view. We made our way up a crumbling staircase, climbed a handmade wooden ladder onto the roof, picked our way past neglected washing and, oddly, a pile of pizza bases, but once we were up, we were rewarded with the view you see on mo4. The moment was a strange juxtaposition of Abu Dhabi old and new.
There is still work to be done by the hardworking labourers, but it is easy to see what a difference it will make to traffic in Abu Dhabi. And, as a bonus, the tunnel exit we spotted from our rooftop vantage point features a wall tiled with a design of horses. I had to smile and couldn't help but share the shopkeepers' optimism that this project will work out very well indeed.