Abu Dhabi's pedestrian-friendly scheme

A Corniche pilot project's success will be the blueprint for future developments on the capital's increasingly busy streets.

ABU DHABI // On a narrow, 500-metre stretch of road opposite the Corniche, a microcosm of the plans for the capital's streets has come to life. Sector W12, part low-rise residential street, part high-rise commercial district and part car parks, has been the site of a pilot project that cost Dh8.2 million. Its success, demonstrated in a tour yesterday, means the lessons learnt now will be applied to all new Abu Dhabi developments.

Residents will be kings of the road. Pedestrian-friendly improvements include narrower streets, raised zebra crossings with clearer markings, more restrictive entrances to car parks, one-way circulation patterns inside parking areas and Braille tiles with smooth elevations so people with special needs have easier access. Wider, shaded pavements and more greenery also are in the works. The renovations had slowed down motorists and made the streets more pedestrian friendly, planning officials said.

"There are fundamental problems that are being solved through this small project that we will hopefully apply to Abu Dhabi," said Ibrahim al Hmoudi, the senior transport planner at the Urban Planning Council (UPC). Mr al Hmoudi said the council would draw up a plan with Abu Dhabi Municipality to determine which roads in the capital would next be redesigned. The UPC had promised that one city centre street would be revamped in accordance with the new measures by the end of 2010. In Sector W12, a redesign of the car parks, which included 45-degree angled parking, saw the number of spaces increase from 228 to 408 without expanding the area. Additionally, motorists cannot illegally park in the area, as it would block the single, one-way lane inside the car park. "By having a one-way street you end illegal parking, without involving the police and fines, and at less of an infrastructure cost and asphalt space," Mr al Hmoudi said. Narrower roads have led to a natural reduction in speed, said Ahmed Mahfoudh, the head of road maintenance at the Department of Municipal Affairs. Behaviour changes were coming naturally to motorists, he said. Added Mr al Hmoudi: "This is a smart way of handling the aggressive driver behaviour within the Middle East and especially in Abu Dhabi." Mr Mahfoudh said more durable material was being used for pavements as well. Brighter materials have been used to highlight zebra crossings, which have been elevated to force motorists to slow down. The radius of road inlets has been tightened, once again forcing motorists to slow down before negotiating turns. Making the roads more aesthetically pleasing, with plantings and landscaping, was also necessary to put road users at greater ease, Mr al Hmoudi said. But Mohammed Karim, a Canadian who works at one of the banks in the area, said the car parks were still too small, shaded areas too scarce and public transport non-existent. But he acknowledged that development would be gradual. "It's urban planning, so it's going to take awhile," he said. Still, Bill Lashbrook, a transport planning manager at UPC and one of the main architects of the street design manual, said the blueprint was being used to design new roads throughout the emirate, including places such as in Khalifa City and Mohammed bin Zayed City that have not yet begun construction. A more gradual approach would be required for the capital city's streets, he said. "The streets of Abu Dhabi were built to a high level of construction, so they don't need to be ripped up and replaced very often, but as they do, and as public transport comes in, we'll be changing the streets," Mr Lashbrook said. Large, immediate overhauls would cause Abu Dhabi to descend into chaos, he said. He said Salam Street would be one of the first to see changes to the surface over the next six to 18 months. kshaheen@thenational.ae