Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | November 26, 2009

Dubai Bicycle Lanes

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.


Responses

  1. These kind of lanes are well known in Amsterdam; city of bicycles.
    very smart notification, would you suggest to do that here in kuwait? this kind of transport is totally not accepted specially under hot weather.

  2. Well, no I don’t think we can just import this into Kuwait and apply it everywhere. The reason has very little to do with the weather, actually. We just don’t have the required density to make it worthwhile, although parts of Salmiya and Hawalli do. We should try a small scale experiment (in the same way Dubai is doing) in Salmiya by widening the pavements and making them comfortable to walk in, and paint those bicycle lanes on them (not on the street, it’s far too dangerous to try and negotiate with Kuwaiti drivers…) The major pedestrian crossings definitely need those people traffic lights. It’s far too dangerous to cross the street without them, especially at night. Who can we talk to to demand that these things be installed?

    We need more experiments in Kuwait to see what can work and what doesn’t.

  3. The shift probably needs to be done as a collective effort, i.e. gradually, neighborhood by neighborhood, begin to design the public realm – the width of its roads, which have an allowance for non-cluttered sidewalks, and allocate within such a sidewalk separate areas for pedestrians and bicyclists; create small communal neighborhood gardens and parks adjacent to the sidewalks; the application of, and types of, speed-bumps (which currently seems to be the only way to slow down vehicular traffic in the city); begin introducing traffic-lights that actually have a specific light for pedestrians, etc.. But also, somehow, begin to shift the attitude of the drivers, who often seem to consider a pedestrian, bicyclists (anyone not in a car) next to, or crossing a street an annoyance rather than a fellow human being (I’ve actually seen drivers blink their headlights and speed up when they see a someone crossing the street in front of them). The notion that the streets (which are an inherent component of the, communal, public realm) aren’t only used by drivers needs to be emphasized…

  4. For anyone interested in road design and how best to do that, here is the best resource you can find:

    http://www.nyc.gov/streetdesignmanual

    That is the NY City street design manual. It’s 250 pages of ideas and suggestions on how to best design a street so that it’s safe, livable and works as best as it can.

    If anyone knows someone in charge of roads and transportation in the government, please let them download the manual and study it. We sure can use some of those ideas.


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