x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dubai pedestrian death toll rises

Pedestrian deaths in Dubai increased from 43 to 46 last year, accounting for more than a third of all road fatalities.

Jaywalkers cross the street on Umm Suqeim Road near the Mall of the Emirates. Pedestrian deaths account for more than a third of all road fatalities.
Jaywalkers cross the street on Umm Suqeim Road near the Mall of the Emirates. Pedestrian deaths account for more than a third of all road fatalities.

DUBAI // Reducing road deaths involving pedestrians is the No 1 challenge of 2012, police say.

The number of road deaths in Dubai dropped by 12 per cent last year, from 152 to 134 - but pedestrian deaths increased from 43 to 46, accounting for more than a third of all road fatalities.

Police say jaywalking, especially on major roads, has been identified as the main cause of such accidents.

"Reducing the number of people killed while crossing the roads is our main challenge this year," said Maj Gen Mohammed Saif Al Zaffein, head of the Dubai Traffic department.

"Highways are not there to be crossed, and they should also not have any pedestrian underpasses or overpasses."

Anyone crossing a road with a speed limit of more than 80kph, or crossing in undesignated areas, is committing a traffic offence. The fine is Dh200.

Last year 37,484 jaywalkers were fined by police.

Jaywalking is a common offence among low-income workers in Dubai. When police catch labourers crossing illegally, they confiscate the offender's labour card until the fine is paid.

The emirate is dissected by three major roads that run parallel: Sheikh Zayed Road, Emirates Road and Al Khail Road. Police identified Emirates Road as the most problematic. The traffic department provided no solution to how pedestrians should get across these roads. Only Sheikh Zayed Road has overpasses, built for Metro users.

Although company transport takes most workers to and from worksites, an absence of pedestrian walkways and cancelled bus routes mean they are forced to navigate danger zones, dodging cars on the motorway to reach extra jobs near by, or visit friends. Hailing taxis is not an option on a Dh1,500 monthly wage.

In a 90-minute drive around Dubai last week, The National saw at least 30 jaywalkers.

They darted across roads, even as cars hurtled toward them. Others jumped over concrete road dividers and squeezed past gaps in road blocks.

Workers who jaywalk said they were aware of the danger but had no other choice in the absence of pedestrian walkways, and with bus routes cancelled.

"I am always full of fear because the car speed is naturally faster than my speed," said Tahir Khan, 52, a gardener who walks from Umm Suqeim Road to the Meadows area, criss-crossing two flyovers and busy thoroughfares.

"I judge the car's speed and then run. Before there was a direct bus route; that's stopped, but I can't stop working," he said.

Manish, a construction labourer, pulled a grey carry-on suitcase behind him as he walked with a friend on the flyover coming from Al Safa towards Al Meydan.

As soon as they spotted a break in traffic zipping past at more than 100kph, they darted across, yanking the bag along.

"Of course I get scared but how else do we travel?" said Manish, 25, who walked for an hour from his worksite to purchase the bag from a nearby market.

Hemant, a worker whose colleague died last year while crossing a road, said: "We know we are taking a chance, but we can't always just sit in the camps."

Jared Rodrigo, a Spanish media professional, said workers running across flyovers and portions of the motorway during peak traffic hours was a common occurrence.

"I worry they will slip and fall in front of my car. If an accident happens, I will be blamed. Do these men have no sense? Do they not value their lives?"

rtalwar@thenational.ae

wissa@thenational.ae