DUBAI // Queues of traffic stretching as far as the eye can see, impatient drivers beeping their horns loudly as cars stop in the middle of the road, blocking their path while families slowly pile out. The first day of January sales? No, just another weekend at the Middle East's largest shopping centre, Mall of the Emirates (MoE). When the mall first opened in Al Barsha in September 2005, many sceptical residents shook their heads smugly, believing its 7,000 car parking spaces would never be filled.
But, three years later, despite new shopping venues - including the Dubai Mall, due for completion next year - springing up across the emirate, the mall's management team plans to increase the number of parking spaces as more and more drivers pour through its cream-coloured entrances. A spokesman for MoE said moves had already been made to increase space. "During this year's Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS), Mall of the Emirates added 200 parking spaces on level two, keeping in mind the increase of foot traffic during these times," she said. "These spaces are opened up during busy weekends and will help visitors during DSS as well. In addition, the mall also provides valet parking services at three different locations."
The mall's 24 entrances were convenient for the customers, she said, but further plans were afoot to ease congestion. "The mall management is reviewing some short- and long-term solutions to increase parking spaces, which will be shared with the media once finalised," she added. News of the plans have been greeted with relief by the mall's customers who spend up to 30 minutes - sometimes more - looking for a space at peak times at the weekends.
"Until recently, I lived in Al Barsha 1," said Charlie Irving, 30. "My apartment was only a 10-minute walk away from MoE, but in the summer the walk would be terrible and most days I would drive. "On Fridays, though, despite the heat, I used to opt for getting soaked with sweat and feel faint because to try to find a parking space used to get me totally worked up. "It makes sense to do something about it. Personally, I would like to see patrol people stopping cars that are creating jams by dropping people at the doors inside the car park."
Vanessa Thompson, 38, from Zimbabwe, recalled being reduced to tears after a traumatic parking experience at the mall. "Every year I go to Dubai Film festival, I love it," she said. "But this year I missed a film I had been looking forward to, which was at the Mall of the Emirates' cinema, because there was nowhere to park. I drove round and round every level of the car park until I reached the top and still there was nothing. I just sat crying in my car."
Ms Thompson said she avoided the mall at weekends. "I live in that area, but I don't go near the place on a Friday. If I absolutely have to then I go very early, when I know it's not going to be too busy. My only concern is any measure to help parking could attract even more traffic to the area." On average, the mall attracts between 70,000 to 80,000 visitors a day during the week and between 100,000 and 110,000 on weekends.
And with DSS now under way, and soaring temperatures outside making the air-conditioned shops, 14-screen cinema, gaming arena, drama theatre and ski slope even more popular, the mall is expecting an 11 per cent increase in "foot traffic" on last year's DSS figures and a 40 per cent increase in sales. The busiest day recorded at MoE was Oct 13 2007, when 135,000 visitors passed through its doors.