Jaywalkers strolling into danger

The changes taking place in Khalifa bin Zayed Street can make it the model for the rest of Abu Dhabi's roads to follow, planners believe.

United Arab Emirates - Abu Dhabi - July 14th, 2009: Bill Lashbrook, planning manager at the Urban Plannig Council speaks at a meeting detailing plans in the road design manual which will have huge implications for road safety.  (Galen Clarke/The National) *** Local Caption ***  GC03_15072009_UPC.jpg
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The changes taking place in Khalifa bin Zayed Street can make it the model for the rest of Abu Dhabi's roads to follow, planners believe. But more zebra crossings and pedestrian-friendly pavements and narrower road lanes to be put into place by the Urban Planning Council may not solve the street's safety problems. The biggest hurdle to a safer street may be the pedestrians themselves.

A walk along Khalifa Street in the afternoon is not unpleasant. High-rise buildings shield pedestrians from the sun, the light traffic flows easily and it is not unduly noisy. But it may be the calm and lack of congestion that lull pedestrians into a false sense of security. Many shuffle across the three narrow lanes to the central reservation, before crossing another series of lanes on the other side. And that is with zebra crossings fewer than 300 metres apart.

Most pedestrians said they were tempted to jaywalk despite the nearby crossings because of an opening in the fence along the central divide. "We follow the wrong way, I know," said Limbo Ramez, a Nepalese electrician jaywalking across the street with a group of co-workers, having ignored a nearby crossing. "But it's not just me. It's everybody. "The Government is also wrong. If there is no gap, nobody will cross - very simple."

Mr Ramez pointed to a restaurant to illustrate his point, arguing that everyone going to the restaurant used the door because the glass walls prevented entry at any other place. Some pedestrians felt that the road needed an aesthetic overhaul. Khalid Mohammed, 18, from Sudan, said it would be improved "if they plant more trees, more flowers, more green and red", in addition to "subways for pedestrians. And they need to close the openings in the fence".

Hakam El Rouby, 54, an Egyptian, agreed. "It's considered the fanciest street in Abu Dhabi, in terms of the people using it and its cleanliness. "Plants and flowers give a good impression of the street - so would organising the parking." Kunnummel Pavithran, 32, an Indian taxi driver, said he felt that jaywalkers often thought they had a right of way. "Khalifa Street is a very big problem," he said. "Sometimes at night it's very difficult. If I see a normal crossing I stop and let them pass. But sometimes the car is coming too fast to stop."