I was walking around Dhiyafa Street on a recent trip to Dubai when I noticed something very unexpected. In one short stroll I was passed by (and I counted them) 15 people on bicycles! It was a strange feeling. There were bike lanes. The pedestrian crossings were very safe and had traffic lights for cars and pedestrians, with those little buttons you push that tell you to wait.
Upon further investigation, I found a hidden building which apparently houses the labor force that is constructing this new part of town. You can’t really see them clearly in the photo but there are literally hundreds of bicycles there. This one labour camp is seeding a culture of pedestrian and bicycle activity in the whole area! Once the infrastructure is set up, and people see other people on bikes, they won’t hesitate to join. The idea is to give people as much choice in transportation as possible and not simply force one mode onto everyone.
I also got a chance to visit Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the people in charge there were incredibly competent and passionate about what they’re doing. Maybe the lethargic attitude in Kuwait lowered my expectations, but I really have changed my mind about Masdar. I have a good feeling now that they really know what they’re doing and that it’s not just some grand-scale publicity stunt for Abu Dhabi. There’s not much to see there yet, but they are pretty deep into the technical design phase. It was fun and a bit surreal seeing pedestrian urbanism ideas, passive cooling, smart grid technology and pricing incentives all come together in one city. The skeptic in me still thinks it’s all too good to be true, but I hope i’m wrong again.