x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Pavements in Abu Dhabi are an adventure challenge

Confronted by roadworks, poor pavements and pushy motorists, mothers say taking baby for a stroll is anything but a walk in the park.

Daisy Gardener and her six-month-old son, Thomas, cross 13th Street in Abu Dhabi.
Daisy Gardener and her six-month-old son, Thomas, cross 13th Street in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Taking baby for a walk is like negotiating a dangerous obstacle course, parents in the capital say.

They complain of roadworks with no alternative pedestrian routes, pavements that end suddenly forcing them to push prams and pushchairs on the road, and zebra crossings that are ignored by motorists.

Daisy Gardener, 31, from the UK, takes her six-month-old son Thomas for a walk in his pushchair every day, as exercise for her and a dose of fresh air for the baby.

"We live in a lovely, residential part of the city, just off Delma Street near Khaleej al Arabi, where there are wide pavements and a quiet neighbourhood that I used to very much enjoy running in before Thomas was born," said Mrs Gardener, a specialist in education for children with special needs.

But trying to navigate a baby in a pushchair or pram is a different experience.

"The pavements are not user-friendly. They end suddenly before reaching a road crossing, or there are roadworks on the pavement without a sign for how pedestrians are to manage," she said.

Obstacles such as lampposts, flowerbeds or patches of grass, common in Mrs Gardener's neighbourhood, also block the pavement and force parents with children on to the road.

"And if there aren't lights at the road crossing, you are heading for a death trap as cars appear to speed up rather than slow down," she said. "I find I need to be quite militant to get the traffic to slow down or stop for me so that I can safely cross."

Johnnie Poitiki, who has just moved to Abu Dhabi from New Zealand and is still awaiting the paperwork to obtain a driving licence and car, navigates the city with his 11-month-old son Jacob by bus.

"When we get off the bus, we have to walk along the road for a while because there are no footpaths; I never feel completely safe doing that," he said.

Mr Poitiki complained of crossings where the underpass or pedestrian bridge was not accessible to prams, pushchairs and wheelchairs, forcing him to run with his son across a wide, busy road.

"It feels like we're taking our lives in our hands and hoping for the best," he said.

Jenna Roster, 29, from the US, is so concerned that she restricts daily walks with her eight-month-old daughter Katrina to the Corniche or to one of the city's parks.

"The city is more for cars and doesn't really encourage people to incorporate walking into their daily lives," she said.

She said she hoped Abu Dhabi Municipality intended to rectify the situation and take pedestrians into consideration while planning the city.

The municipality said it had built five pedestrian bridges, including two last month alone, and lifts had been installed on three of them.

Mrs Roster said: "When I want to walk or get some fresh air with Katrina, I just head to a park or to the Corniche. It's safe and meant for pedestrians, and is the best solution."

The problem, however, is getting there. "I still have to walk to find a taxi to take us to the safer areas, so it's unavoidable."

Amira Abu Lughoud, 27, from Jordan, said that although Abu Dhabi's pavements can be an obstacle course, she has seen worse.

"I've lived in many capitals in the Middle East where sidewalks are almost non-existent, so Abu Dhabi is better than most," she said.

"The biggest problem I face is a lack of accessibility at crossings, forcing me to man-handle the stroller and practically carry it down from the sidewalk so I can push it across the street while waving at cars to stop."

The experience is too stressful for her to go walking too often, she said.

But Mrs Gardener says her daily walks will continue while the weather is pleasant.

"I am so keen on my walks with Thomas and nothing will stop me from taking them. It helps me to feel more at home in this city to be able to see my neighbourhood on foot," she said. "But every day I find myself amazed as what should be a simple walk turns into quite an adventure."

hkhalaf@thenational.ae