ABU DHABI // Parents in the capital say taking their babies for walks in prams and strollers is too much like negotiating an obstacle course.
It can be, they say, an unpleasant and dangerous experience.
Sudden roadworks that do not provide alternate routes for pedestrians, pavements that end suddenly forcing parents to walk on the road or zebra crossings that are not respected by motorists are some of the many complaints.
Daisy Gardner, 31, from the UK, said she very much believes in taking her six-month-old son, Thomas, out for daily walks in his stroller: both as a form of exercise for her and a way for her baby to get a daily dose of fresh air.
“We live in a lovely, residential part of the city – just off Delma Street near Khaleej al Arabi – where there are wide pavements and a quiet neighbourhood that I used to very much enjoy running in before Thomas was born,” said Mrs Gardner, a specialist in education for children with special needs.
Navigating a baby in a stroller or pram, however, is an entirely different experience, she said.
“The pavements are aesthetic and not user-friendly. They end suddenly before having reached a road crossing or there are roadworks on the pavement without a sign for how pedestrians are to manage.”
Obstacles such as lamp posts, flowerbeds or patches of grass, common in Mrs Gardner’s neighbourhood, also obscure the path down the pavement and force parents with children onto the road.
“Once at the road crossing, if there aren’t lights, you are heading for a death trap as cars appear to speed up rather than slow down,” she said. “I find I need to be quite militant to get the traffic to slow down or stop for me so that I can safely cross.”
Johnnie Poitiki recently moved to Abu Dhabi from New Zealand, and is waiting for his residency papers to go through before he can obtain a driver’s licence and car. Currently, he is navigating the city with his 11-month-old son, Jacob, via bus.
“One of the major problems that we’ve had is that when we get off the bus, we have to walk along the road for a while because there are no footpaths; I never feel completely safe doing that,” he said.
There are quite a few areas, said Mr Poitiki, where the underpasses or the overhead pedestrian crossings are not accessible to prams, strollers and wheelchairs, so he is forced to run across a wide road with his son.
“It feels like we’re taking our lives in our hands and hoping for the best,” he said.
These safety concerns force American Jenna Roster, 29, to confine her daily walks with her eight-month-old daughter, Katrina, to the Corniche or to the city’s many parks.
“The city is more for cars and doesn’t really encourage people to incorporate walking into their daily lives,” she said.
She hopes that the Abu Dhabi Municipality has plans to rectify the situation and will plan the city while taking pedestrians into consideration.
The Municipality has so far completed five pedestrian bridges. Elevators have been installed on three pedestrian bridges. And two pedestrian bridges were installed in November.
The Abu Dhabi Corniche, said Mrs Roster, is her go-to solution.
“When I want to walk or get some fresh air with Katrina, I just head to a park or to the Corniche - it’s safe and meant for pedestrians and is the best solution.”
The problem, however, is getting there, she said.
“I still have to walk to find a taxi to take us to the safer areas, so it’s unavoidable really.”
Amira Abu Lughoud, 27, from Jordan, said that although Abu Dhabi’s sidewalks can be an obstacle course, she has seen worse.
“I’ve lived in many capitals in the Middle East where sidewalks are almost non-existent, so Abu Dhabi is better than most,” she said.
“The biggest problem I face is a lack of accessibility at crossings, forcing me to man-handle the stroller and practically carry it down from the sidewalk so I can push it across the street while waving at cars to stop.”
The entire experience is too stressful for her to indulge too often, she said.
Mrs Gardner, on the other hand, is adamant that her daily walks will continue, at least while the weather is pleasant.
“I am so keen on my walks with Thomas and nothing will stop me from taking them. It helps me to feel more at home in this city to be able to see my neighbourhood on foot,” she said.
“Every day, however, I find myself amazed as what should be a simple walk turns into quite an adventure.”