Abu Dhabi residents look forward to less traffic when multi-million government plan takes effect

Al Zahiyah residents, visitors and workers are looking forward to the Dh249 million development project announced by the government, which will help ease traffic.

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ABU DHABI // The incessant honking of car horns form a soundtrack to congested roads in Al Zahiyah that residents, visitors and workers say would greatly benefit from the Dh249 million development project announced by the government to ease traffic.

The Al Zahiyah infrastructure project approved by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council on Thursday includes redesigning Al Firdous and 10th streets – which border Abu Dhabi Mall, Beach Rotana, Le Meridian Abu Dhabi and apartment blocks – and nearby cross streets.

Al Zahiyah is one of several urban development and improvement projects announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and Chairman of the Executive Council after a meeting on Thursday.

Other projects include housing loans for Emiratis, residential and business district development, plus schools and extensive improvements to roads and other infrastructure.

The Executive Council also announced the merger of Khalifa University, Masdar Institute and the Petroleum Institute to create a world-class seat of learning, research and innovation in Abu Dhabi.

Al Zahiyah residents said Al Firdous and 10th, the main arteries in the neighbourhood formerly known as Tourist Club Area, have been in a state of perpetual development and they looked forward to the removal of the construction barriers once and for all.

“These temporary dividers have been here for a long time,” said Manu Ravimbranath, 40, an Indian who lives and works in the area. “Once that is gone, this area’s traffic and pedestrian movements will be clear.”

They are not just unsightly, the blockades confuse the flow of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, he said. People often walk around them, into the street, and are also baffled by poor signage. While there is an overhead crosswalk, many pedestrians do not use it, preferring to walk or run across a faded zebra crossing in front of the mall.

“Even though there is a pedestrian bridge, a lot of people don’t like to use it for a small distance like this, so people tend to run across. It’s really dangerous,” Mr Ravimbranath said.

“The bridge is quite high also, and the lifts are not always working, so elderly people or parents with children and trolleys, they don’t want to climb up.”

But the road blockades and poor pedestrian laneways are only part of the traffic problem in the neighbourhood, he said.

“They don’t have parking at all,” he said. “I heard that they are going to make more parking. If that is the case, there will be a lot more space for vehicles to move, for people to move.”

The Al Zahiyah development project “seeks to completely amend the parking spots” in the neighbourhood, according to Wam, the state news agency.

This was welcome news to Emirati Noor Al Sayegh, who shops at Abu Dhabi Mall and relies on a personal driver to drop her off and pick her up.

“When the driver arrives, we have to hurry because there is no parking. He can’t stop for anything,” Ms Al Sayegh said. “It’s very crowded, this area, so it’s a very good idea.”

She also praised the government’s plan to add more pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths.

Zuhair Hammoud, a Palestinian who lives near by, said the neighbourhood has a large pedestrian population, including many children. Designating specific lanes for walkers and cyclists would “be good”, he said, because it would make the area safer for children.

Steven Ssemugabi, a professional driver from Uganda who has worked in Abu for about 18 months, said Al Zahiyah is “one of the most, most, most difficult and busy areas” for him to work. Peak times were a nightmare, he said.

“There is always a lot of traffic and every day the vehicles are increasing,” Mr Ssemugabi said.

The entry and exits to Abu Dhabi Mall and nearby hotels are problem spots he said he was happy to hear are being addressed by the Executive Council.

The taxi queue in front of the mall often backs up into the oncoming lanes.

“It’s terrible,” said Mr Ssemugabi, remarking that the tailback catches drivers new to the city by surprise.

“Some people find it difficult to divert to the other lane. It’s not good for the queue to back up into the road. It’s dangerous. We find that if it’s a busy day, this can be a big problem.”

According to Wam, the project includes improving and reconstructing street entrances and exits surrounding hotels, the Abu Dhabi Mall, and residential buildings.

The plans also call for improving the “road lighting systems in the area”, which Mr Ssemugabi welcomed, saying the traffic signals were poorly timed.