Plea for 70km of cycle routes in capital

As cyclists in the capital say a dedicated bike path could serve Abu Dhabi's attractions while providing commuters with a safe and environmentally sound way to travel. However as in the emirate's roads dangers do exist on the bike paths they warn.

ABU DHABI // Cyclists in the capital say a dedicated bike path similar to Dubai's newly-opened Al Qudra track could link some of Abu Dhabi's most scenic attractions while providing commuters with a safe and environmentally sound way to travel.

They warn that the capital's main cycle path on the Corniche has become dangerous as it is overrun with pedestrians unaware of its existence and suggest a new, far more comprehensive path, separated from other vehicular traffic, could run the length of some of the capital's landmark attractions, linking such attractions as Saadiyat's planned museums, Yas Island, and the eastern mangroves on the Corniche Al Qurm to commuter territories such as Al Raha, Al Reef and Al Bandar.

Such a facility, they argue, would provide the capital with a unique selling point to tourists seeking healthy forms of entertainment while also showcasing the capital's natural attractions and underlining its green credentials by proving a commitment to environmentally friendly forms of travel.

"The corniche path is a fantastic place for people who are trying to have fun, but for a commuter cyclist it's deadly," said Peter Mueller, 49, who has been commuting to work on a mountain bike since arriving in Abu Dhabi 10 years ago.

Most pedestrians are unaware the cycle path even exists, he said, and consequently walk along it causing a hazard to both themselves and those cycling.

Mr Mueller, a prominent member of the capital's cycling community who takes part in and organises cycling events for the Abu Dhabi Triathlon Club, is one of many now looking to Dubai's newly-opened Al Qudra cycle path with thinly-disguised envy.

"We desperately need something like that in Abu Dhabi," he said, referring to the path as "truly inspirational".

Mr Mueller believes a similar project could pay dividends for the capital and he has devised a plan for two separate 35km routes that would start in Al Falah before branching out into the capital, one along the eastern mangroves and one onto Yas and Saadiyat Islands.

"Combined it would give cyclists an approximate 70km route, that can be joined easily from almost all areas on Abu Dhabi Island, Saadiyat, Raha, Al Reef and Al Falah. The route would take in a lot of the most scenic attractions that Abu Dhabi has to offer, as well as a bit of a 'wilderness' experience, if the route across Saadiyat and Yas Islands could be incorporated," he said.

It's an idea that has the approval of Garry Kershaw, 50, a cyclist who was knocked unconscious in a hit-and-run in Mirfa in November. Despite requiring surgery that involved titanium screws being fixed to his shoulder, the Australian expatriate is already back in the saddle, though he is more cautious now.

He believes dedicated cycle lanes would keep both pedestrians and cyclists safe by separating them from each other, while also promoting healthier lifestyles and benefitting the environment.

"At certain times of the year, it would take some cars off the road," he said. "So, less traffic and cleaner air."

In the absence of such a path, cyclists are forced either to brave the capital's roads, or take their chances on the Corniche - where many say pedestrians ignoring 'bicycle only' signs have become a threat to both themselves and those cycling.

Cyclists stopped by The National on a number of recent visits to the Corniche cycle path warned the amount of pedestrians they encountered on their rides posed a clear safety risk.

Butti Al Qubaisi, who has been cycling on the lane five days a week for the past four years, said that last week his cousin was riding down the lane when a pedestrian suddenly "popped out from between the bushes". The resulting crash put both of them in hospital.

Mr Al Qubaisi, 40, counts cycling as part of his "lifestyle" and says pedestrians in the cycle lane bother him "very much". "It is dangerous to them and to me," he said. "I want to be safe."

He averages over 30 kph while cycling and says at that speed it is hard to stop for a wayward walker.

"Education grows in a person, but most of the pedestrians come from different backgrounds and are most probably uneducated," said Mr Al Qubaisi, who added he would like to see more cycling paths in Abu Dhabi.

Khaled El Farouk, a 19-year-old Egyptian studying Geology, who has been riding on the Corniche lane for the past six years, said he too has had some close calls.

"Most of the time I come from behind (the pedestrians) and I can't help but get close enough to hitting them," he said. "It's their fault for being in the bike lane, they should be on the other side."

Others suggested running an awareness campaign to warn pedestrians from walking on the path - and failing that, issuing them fines.

"I see a lot of them, about 10 in 1 hour," said Amir El Derbi, 54, a Palestinian senior network engineer. "I may come across someone, and cause harm to them."

Carlos Jara, 41, from Texas, agreed an awareness campaign might be needed. He cycles on the Corniche about once a month, but during that visit says he will pass about 40 pedestrians on the cycle path, and that this poses a safety issue "especially with kids around".

Pedestrians, for their part, are often unaware there is cycle path on the Corniche, while others question its placement, pointing out pedestrians are forced to walk across it if they are to cross the road.

"I didn't know we weren't allowed to walk on this lane," said Ehad Qaffaf, 33, from Jordan, who visits the Corniche about once a week. "How will I get to the zebra crossing if I don't come here?

Yaroslava Zhurenkova, 28, from Ukraine, said she was aware she was walking in a cycle lane, but said she did so for the "soft surface". Nevertheless, she admits that when she does rent a bike and sees pedestrians in the lane, she gets angry.

But it is not only pedestrians who are guilty of ignoring the Corniche's signs for designated areas.

The National asked Arun Narayan, 35, and Devanand Botharaj, 29, both from India, whether they were aware they were walking in a cycle lane. Both replied that they had assumed the lane was for pedestrians.

They pointed to the pedestrian pathway, where a number of cyclists were riding.

"We saw bicycles coming from that side (the pedestrian lane)," said Mr Narayan. "So we crossed to this way."

"So this is a bike lane?" here.

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