x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Abu Dhabi is unsafe for pedestrians, expert says

A 'walk audit' of the city has shown many obstacles that are unfriendly and dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists.

Although unavoidable in a developing emirate, roadworks should take pedestrians into account, says expert Dan Burden.
Although unavoidable in a developing emirate, roadworks should take pedestrians into account, says expert Dan Burden.

ABU DHABI // On the streets behind the Madinat Zayed shopping centre, Dan Burden was perplexed. "There are so many barriers," he said. "I don't know where to walk. I bump into barriers. I also see a lot of people walking in car parks."

Mr Burden, executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, was taking officials on a "walk audit" of the city, pointing out the obstacles that make Abu Dhabi unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists. And there were plenty of them.

He noted the high kerbs, which are hard to walk up, and make it difficult to install ramps. "You have to set the kerb height at a practical level," he said.

Further behind the mall, rubbish bins stuck out from street corners. And the parking spaces were bigger than they needed to be - 7 metres, rather than 5-6m - meaning less space for pavement.

Nor was there anywhere to sit, or wider areas of pavement where people can gather.

Roadworks were also a problem. Although unavoidable in a developing emirate, they should take pedestrians into account - which means creating proper walkways when the pavement is blocked off, Mr Burden said.

Pedestrians will ignore bridges and tunnels and cross at street level unless they are given a reason not to. "There must be a reason for people to get in those tunnels. There are no shops inside them. We can also make use of music and active lighting."

Pedestrian crossings are often dangerous, Mr Burden said. He spent two days walking around the city before yesterday's presentation. "Some motorists will yield to me, while others won't," he said. "When we get the design right, we'll have courteous motorists."

It was Mr Burden's 4,128th walk audit and his first in Abu Dhabi. This week he will address the Mena International Association of Public Transport congress in the capital.

He praised the work done on the Corniche, which was designed with pedestrians in mind. "I saw so many people walking and cycling," he said. "People come to the city not to drive. I'm proud of the achievement of these trails which have an extra metre of space."

More demonstration projects would make the emirate more walkable and livable, he said. "It can get these model projects built to where people can use, see and understand them, and ask for more."

He stressed the need to understand why people choose to walk or cycle - and why they do not.

A lot of that comes down to making walking easy and safe. Pavements need to be continuous - unlike the obstacle course he encountered new Madinat Zayed.

"There should be very good ways to get across the street," Mr Burden said. "It should not emphasise speed in the city, and see the city as the destination. This is where people come to live, to shop and share."

Abdullah Rashed Al Otaiba, chairman of the Department of Transport, said the government was committed to improving pedestrians' lot.

"The efforts of the concerned authorities are continuous to make each block in the island and the emirate livable," he said. "Many blocks have been revitalised and specifications have been developed.

"We have an urban street design manual and the priority is to design streets for pedestrians first before cars. It is now being implemented in both Baynounah and Salam streets."

rruiz@thenational.ae