Kuwait has grown over the past five decades with rapid speed. The growth was tied to its financial prosperity. During the first boom years of the independence days of the early 1960’s till the late 1970’s, Kuwait grew as a vast urban sprawl to accommodate the fast growing numbers of its population. This urban sprawl required a network of streets to link every one and everything together. That time was the golden age of the automobile, all around the world, and Kuwait was no different.
In recent years, Kuwait and the rest of the region witnessed yet another boom which came with another explosion in population and a massive building boom. The increased height of building new structures to house people and business grew suddenly and inflected acute pressure on the roads networks. Street were jammed and traffic became a nightmare.
Dubai initiated the metro system to try to be the first city in the region to alleviate pressure from its streets and reduce traffic jams. A metro system is the only possible way to have a more functional and sustainable system of transport today, since all other mass-transit systems still rely on streets. Buses and taxi’s are the only means of mass-transit system available to people in Kuwait. This, along with cars of different sizes and types are intensifying the pressure on our roads and increasing traffic jams.
Kuwait’s Municipal Authority and the Public Works ministry’s solution was to build more highways across the country. The highway system in Kuwait works well, though it can’t escape the intense rush hours of the day, but in general it does the job. That fact seems to have persuaded the planning authorities to go ahead and continue the First Ring Road, as a highway, and to make it an actual ring.
First Ring Road
This decision was made back in the day when Kuwait City was centered around Jibla area in the city and Fahad Al-Salem Street was the busiest and most active street in the country. It seems that the planners made the decision based on these following points:
1- Eliminate current and future congestion on Jahra Gate roundabout.
2- Provide a quick access to the city center via the main route.
3- Reduce traffic on Gulf Road.
4- Improve land development potential.
5- Reduce traffic congestion in the inner parts of the city and on the radial routes leading to it.
I believe this is a this poor decision and one that makes Kuwait City perhaps the only city in the world where it has a highway cutting through it like a river, only a river of high speeding cars. This highway which is under construction is a barrier between the city’s heart and its surroundings, especially towards the seaside. It is a sad fact that people will lose their ability to walk from place to place during the winter months, when the weather is pleasant, and park their car anywhere and wander around to explore the city. It is now impossible to cross from, say the stock exchange building to the grand Mosque of Kuwait by the simple means of a walk, though they happen to be across from each other. People now have to find the nearest pedestrian bridge to cross over this highway to reach their desired place. It is shameful that this happens in a city that already suffers from a lack of urbanization and public life.
Recent image of the expansion of First Ring Road
The other way to reduce traffic in the city is to simply make it more permeable, meaning vastly more accessible from all sides, like a sponge. We do this by building more service streets and providing parking places and regulating the timings of big vehicles to pass. That would have worked just fine until Kuwait builds its own metro system. It is premature to make a final judgment now, one should wait and see how this highway functions and how will the public responds to it. Though in my view, this highway is a crime to the city and its urban fabric.