Today, 09.09.09, is the day the Dubai Metro was promised to have been launched. The project is 75% over budget (SkyNews) and with only a small portion of only one line active from the first day, but it will be up and running as promised without delay. Will it be good for Dubai? We all hope so, but it is a very risky experiment. Kuwait and Dubai have very different urban structures. What can we learn from the Dubai Metro?
“The buzz in all major and minor circles today is hovering over just one topic & one topic alone: Dubai Metro. No one can help but agree that a lot is riding on its success. …With one million registered vehicles in Dubai and more than 1.3 million vehicles seen on the roads of Dubai, the general prevailing sentiment is: “Better late than never.” Many residents believe that it’s about time a convenient and diffused mode of public transport is available for the common citizen for various purposes: saving commuting costs, reducing traffic related stress levels, reaching work on time, getting daily chores done, etc.”
“The Dubai Road and Transport Authority adds: “Dubai Metro is bound to have a lasting effect on the mobility habits of visitors and inhabitants of the city. …This will ultimately impact the lifestyle of people. [W]e will be heading towards an enhanced version of mobility habits that looks pretty similar to the European model.” (Road and Transport Authority)”
I really don’t care that the project has launched on schedule. The date, 09.09.09, was a cheap marketing gimmick that is fairly arbitrary in the grand scheme of things. To think that they rushed the completion, paying huge overtime and premiums, is unfortunate. I found this comment from the RTA in Dubai to be very foolish:
“When you talk about Dubai you talk about the seven-star hotel – the Burj Al Arab – or the Palm Island – the first man-made island – or the tallest building in the world – the Burj Dubai. We want the Metro to become a new icon and to connect all of these icons.”
That’s just incredibly stupid. I hope that wasn’t the real motivation behind the project. A metro shouldn’t link buildings together, it should connect walkable networks of urban spaces. This sensationalist marketing and branding of the city looks great on magazines and brochures, but will it really make your life better?
The main problem I have with the Dubai Metro is that Dubai is such a frustratingly linear city. You can see that reflected in the map. The Red Line starts at the airport and then just goes in a straight line, passing all of the Dubai ‘icons’, all the way towards Jebel Ali. This means that if you live along that line (and within walking distance to a station) then you can go up and down Sheikh Zayed road without worries. If you don’t live that close (and the vast majority of people don’t) then you will have to drive to a station. You can take a bus and then take the train, and most people will do that. But if you’re already in the bus, why can’t you take that all the way to your destination?
The metro will no doubt make that journey better, but was that really worth more than KD2 billion? A successful metro allows a commuter to walk comfortably to a station, take as few trains as possible, and then exit and walk to their destination. The Red Line will provide that experience to only a small minority of its passengers. The Green Line makes a lot more sense as it wraps around a very dense part of the city that is already well established and walkable. I don’t think the Purple Line makes any sense, and the Blue Line will never be built.
Kuwait City has evolved in entirely different way from Dubai. The high density of parts of the city are well suited for a public transportation network. The goal of Kuwait Metro is to link the three main walkable urban centers together, those being the City, Hawalli/Salmiya and the Farwaniya area.
It is critical that in each of these zones for the metro network to be highly dense. Everyone living in Salmiya/Hawalli and Farwaniya and working in the City should be within walking distance to a station. In addition to this, a complete overhaul of the pedestrian culture in the city is needed; meaning more tree-shaded walkways, more benches and many more secure, clean sidewalks.
Once the three networks are linked, people living and working within them will find that a car becomes optional for life. This is the whole point of creating the metro. The density of the City, Hawalli, Salmiya and Farwaniya will continue to increase rapidly, but there will be fewer cars on the road. There will also be a lot less stress in terms of finding parking spaces and also more room to walk and cleaner air to breathe.
People always use the excuse that few or no Kuwaitis will use the thing. I disagree on that point, seeing as how the plan makes sure that all major universities and malls are included. Even if the majority of them don’t use it, they will still benefit immensely from the reduction in traffic and the wonderful new walkable urban spaces that will emerge.
Dubai never really needed a metro. It will help for sure, but it is definitely not worth the cost and effort. Kuwait desperately needs one, and the city will benefit greatly for generations to come. This is an investment worth fighting for and getting right.