x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

For pedestrians, nowhere to run

Speeding revealed at site of deaths where people say they have little choice but to risk an unsafe crossing.

A pedestrian crosses Airport Road outside Carrefour in Abu Dhabi yesterday, near the site of the accident.
A pedestrian crosses Airport Road outside Carrefour in Abu Dhabi yesterday, near the site of the accident.

ABU DHABI // Pedestrians continued dashing across a busy road yesterday at the spot where three Emirati sisters were struck and killed by what police believe was a speeding vehicle. Reporters from The National, armed with a radar gun, clocked vehicles travelling at more than 100kph at the point on Airport Road near Carrefour. The speed limit on that stretch of road is only 60kph.

There is no pedestrian crossing; the nearest one is a few blocks away, and the sides of the street have been barricaded with high, white metal walls and red plastic barriers during construction work. Small sections of the barricade were missing, allowing pedestrians to cross the busy street and to permit an impromptu waiting area for taxis. Some people yesterday said the difficulty of catching a taxi left them no choice but to cross the busy road.

"After work, all the taxis are heading in the direction of Dubai and Musaffah, so are usually full on the side of Carrefour. So at busy times of day we have to cross the road," said Raj Kumar Rai. "There is no choice." Ayman Kahiri makes the treacherous crossing each day because, he said, most taxi drivers who collect him from Musaffah prefer to drive straight to the city, where they get more business, rather than turn around to reach the supermarket.

"The taxis would have to make another two U-turns to take us outside, so often, they will drop us on the other side of the road and we just cross. There is no crossing." People who try to cross at the entrance to the Carrefour car park cannot see oncoming cars because of the walls. Yesterday, some were edging forward, then quickly stepping back to avoid vehicles making right turns. Similar scenes are being played out across the emirate and the country every day as pedestrians, faced with few formal crossings, risk their lives trying to cross roads.

There were 26 pedestrians killed crossing Abu Dhabi's roads in the first 71 days of this year, while 117 were injured. In Dubai, 24 were killed. Last year 663 pedestrians in Abu Dhabi were struck by cars, up from 583 in 2007. Dubai saw the most pedestrian/vehicle incidents, with 754 compared with 665 the year before. Across the country, there were 2,138 such accidents, compared with 2,022 the year before.

The high number of pedestrian fatalities contributes to the UAE's high overall traffic death toll, which saw 1,071 killed in 2008, up from 1,056 in 2007. A recent report from the World Health Organisation said the UAE's roads were among the most dangerous in the world. According to the WHO, 37.1 people were killed for every 100,000 residents. The worst-performing country in the report, Eritrea, had a rate of 48.4 fatalities per 100,000 people.

According to the WHO, the rate was calculated using all fatalities linked to traffic accidents. Police only record deaths that occur at the scene, the UN body says. Authorities in the UAE have responded to pedestrian-related accidents by trying to block access to roads and motorways, although often barriers are broken down where people continue to cross. Police say they are also trying to educate pedestrians how to cross safely. In Abu Dhabi, 650 people were fined Dh200 (US$54) each over three days last month, in the latest of several campaigns. There are plans to build more pedestrian footbridges in Abu Dhabi, but police note that many pedestrians do not use existing underpasses.

Col Gaith al Zaabi, the director of traffic for the Ministry of Interior, called recently for municipalities to install surveillance cameras in underpasses to reassure women who may fear harassment at night. He also suggested adding pedestrian-controlled signals at traffic lights, quickly repairing broken barriers and adding lifts to bridges for the disabled to use. Pedestrians complain that there are not enough crossings and that drivers often do not slow for them, though motorists face a Dh500 fine and six black points on their licences for not giving way.

Longer-term, plans are being floated to redesign city streets to make them safer and more comfortable for pedestrians. The Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 identifies a need to improve streetscapes to maximise pedestrian safety and comfort, and the Department of Transport's master plan will address road safety. Car-free zones, traffic-light-controlled pedestrian crossings and narrower streets are some of the proposed projects, in addition to air-conditioned bridges, subways and crossings.

But in the meantime, pedestrians continue to face difficulties at spots such as the one near Carrefour, where The National's radar clocked vehicles travelling through the construction zone at between 74kph and 105kph. @Email:mchung@thenational.ae * Additional reporting by Hassan Hassan and Jen Gerson