x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pedestrians favoured in new urban strategy

A new sustainable transportation plan calls for wider walkways, more greenery and shade to induce people to take to the streets.

ABU DHABI // Pedestrians are getting a bad deal in the capital with pavements that are inadequate and in dire need of repair, urban planners have admitted. To remedy the situation they have drafted new design rules to ensure pavements in future are wide and shaded.

Jean Philippe Coulaud, a spokesman for the Urban Planning Council (UPC), said high-speed traffic had been given priority, relegating pedestrians to "remnant space left over after cars". "Currently Abu Dhabi's pedestrian realm is characterised by poor quality and discontinuous sidewalks, tall kerbs, obstructions and lack of shade," he said. The capital's pavements deterred people from walking and gave no incentive to those who would otherwise leave their car at home, Mr Coulaud added.

A new street design manual is being developed that says pavements should be at least two metres wide and more shaded. Making them more attractive and comfortable will also be a higher civic priority in future. The UPC is working with the Department of Transportation, the Municipality and the police to develop the street design plan, which should be completed next year. Pedestrians, however, may need to see action before they are convinced.

Abu Dhabi announced earlier this year that 36 footbridges would be built over the capital's main roads to aid the pedestrian. At the time, Abudulla al Shamsi, the Municipality's director of roads and infrastructure, said: "If you separate the pedestrians from the cars, accidents will be minimised." However, construction is yet to begin on any of the bridges. In addition, at the start of the year, pedestrians were targeted when jaywalking was made an offence punishable by hefty fines - raised to Dh200 (US$55) from Dh50 in March. In the first month 3,000 fines were given out.

A key element of the new plan could be finding a material other than tarmac for the city's pavements, said Khalfan Sultan al Nuaimi, architect and construction permit director for the municipality. Because tarmac absorbs heat and keeps it at street level, a new surface could potentially alleviate the high temperatures to which pedestrians are subjected. "A new material could make the streets more suitable for walking, cycling and also for handicapped people," he said.

The new substance has not yet been chosen but other features, including shading and the addition of more greenery, will make the pavements more attractive and slightly cooler for people. Wider pavements to accommodate more people, as well as those with mobility aids, is another key aspect of the plan. The UPC says the minimum width should be two metres. Some of Abu Dhabi's pavements already meet this requirement, but they all should, according to the plan.

"The width of sidewalks needs to fit within the context - the width of the street, scale, type and density of land uses, character of the district," Mr Coulaud said. The first pavement improvements will occur on Saadiyat Island, Al Raha Beach, Yas Island, Al Reem Island and Al Sowwah Island. The UPC added it was working with Aldar, the emirate's largest developer, to "improve the pedestrian realm around the Central Market development downtown".

"Most importantly, the new Capital District will be a showcase for sustainable transportation and will prioritise pedestrian and transit movement in street design," Mr Coulaud said. The city hopes improvements to the pavements will encourage as many people as possible to walk and leave their cars at home. "The manual will aim to rebalance the competition for space among road users to prioritise for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and automobiles," Mr Coulaud said.

Mr Nuaimi said the importance of pavements could not be underestimated; the extent to which they are made attractive is symbolic of the how much value a city places on pedestrians. "The pavements are like the blood in humans," he said. "They need to connect things together." @Email:jhume@thenational.ae