x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Breath of fresh air for walkers

Streets will be designed to capture the wind, making a city stroll a more pleasant experience.

Shade, greenery and a useful location make streets more attractive.
Shade, greenery and a useful location make streets more attractive.

ABU DHABI // The capital's streets of the future will put the pedestrian first and provide an environment in which the living is easy, planners promise. From pavement seating in the shade of trees, to streets shaped to funnel a cooling breeze, to the tram stop in the middle of the road, those on foot are being taken into account.

"Our philosophy starts with pedestrians, but also when building the street, we start with the pedestrian first," said Bill Lashbrook, a transport planning manager at the Urban Planning Council. "You would continue to be miserable if you were trying to catch a tram with the current kerbing you've got and the current points of crossing roads," added Alan Perkins, a senior planning manager with the UPC.

A major departure from past planning was that the manual considered every aspect of a street, said Mr Perkins. It talks about "streetscapes" - from the front of a building on one side of the road right across to the building on the other side. "One of the key things about the manual is it is not just designed within the street from kerb to kerb," Mr Perkins said. "It is taking it from building to building. These tend to be designed separately, whereas this is treating the whole thing."

On the pavement, that means defined zones - building front, a clear path for walking, an area for street furniture such as benches and trees, and the edge, where signs and parking meters are placed. Walking around the city, even during summer, will be a much more pleasant experience. Planners have gone back to traditional Arabian architecture and urban design for inspiration. In older civilisations, streets and pedestrian passageways were narrow and shaded by buildings. Tomorrow's streets will have trees, landscapes or shaded shelters similar to the canopies used to cover cars deployed when buildings do not provide enough cover.

For new communities, detailed sun angle and shade projection studies will be carried out. Streets will be designed to capture the wind, which will provide natural cooling. Materials that retain heat will be used in building to reduce the "urban heat gain" caused by sunlight and warmth radiating back from warmed surfaces. "You can design streets so they run at an angle so [buildings] provide shade at the most important times of day and year," Mr Lashbrook said. "You want to build buildings and streets to encourage air flow."

Public transport and facilities such as mosques and shops will be within walking distance for residents. Tram stations and taxi stops will be laid out with comfort and safety in mind to encourage the use of public transport. Streets will also be more welcoming for disabled people. The maximum distance across the street at pedestrian crossings will be 13 metres - down from as much as 18 metres at some junctions now - making it a shorter trip. Planners must also ensure that pavements are clear of obstructions and there are adequate rest areas.

The guidelines also include smooth yet slip-resistant surfaces, ramps from the kerb to the road and warning strips to alert those with impaired sight of obstacles, a slope or traffic lights. Audible warnings and message systems are recommended for road junctions. "We welcome the initiative very much and encourage the UPC to act as strict as possible to implement new guidelines," said Thomas Pape, a senior technical adviser to the Zayed Higher Organization for Humanitarian Care, Special Needs and Minors Affairs.

"Additionally, we suggest clear time frames related to prioritised urban areas for implementing the necessary modifications of existing streets and other public places. "It is very good that surfaces and acoustic signals are on the agenda." @Email:mchung@thenational.ae