May 14. 2009 THE NATIONAL
Traffic passing the mall is heavy because lorries and cars have been diverted to the road by construction on Salam Street. Sammy Dallal / The National
ABU DHABI // Lifts will be installed on the footbridge in front of Abu Dhabi Mall, and the traffic signal removed, in an attempt to stop pedestrians making dangerous crossings at the spot, a city official said yesterday.
Khaled al Junaibi, project manager for the Salam Street underpass project, said the lifts had been ordered and should be installed by the end of the summer at the bridge on the street that runs in front of the mall.
Pedestrians going to or from the mall often walk and run across five lanes of one-way traffic at a signal crossing designated for “handicapped only” rather than use the footbridge just steps away. Many of them cross the street against the light during breaks in traffic rather than wait for a “walk” signal.
Mr al Junaibi said city planners did not want people to cross at street level in front of the mall.
“When they cross the road we are forced to give less time for the traffic. If we give less time for this traffic, it will be backed up.”
The one-way traffic has been divided by bollards, leaving three lanes for vehicles going towards Al Meena Road and the Corniche and two lanes for local traffic, going to sites such as the mall or the Beach Rotana hotel.
Traffic passing the mall is particularly heavy at present because lorries and cars have been diverted on to the road by construction on Salam Street.
Some pedestrians make it only as far as the bollards and then wait as vehicles drive by within touching distance on either side of the pedestrians.
“We know about this issue,” Mr al Junaibi said. “We have ordered some elevators, and by the end of the summer they are supposed to be fixed.”
The crossing and signal were meant to be used by the disabled and the elderly who could not use the bridge, Mr al Junaibi said.
At about 5pm on one recent weekday, large groups of pedestrians crossed at street level with just a few opting to climb the flights of stairs to the bridge.
The traffic showed red against traffic for about 50 seconds to allow pedestrians to cross. Some impatient people crossed illegally, and many were forced to run. Motorists could be seen slowing down. The driver of a silver taxi slammed on his brakes and screeched to a halt to avoid hitting a young boy.
Kailash Tiwari, a road safety specialist with 30 years of experience as a traffic engineer, said the municipality was right to encourage people to use the footbridges. But he said a pedestrian-controlled signal should be installed at the crossing to give priority to the disabled and elderly who need to use it.
Mr al Junaibi said planners try to have pedestrian crossings at street level where possible. “It’s an equation we have to manage between the traffic and the pedestrian. It is OK for them to cross at certain locations, but we don’t want them to affect the quality of the traffic.”
He said staff at the traffic centre at Abu Dhabi Municipality were able to monitor the timing of the signal and adjust it if necessary. He added that lifts might be installed at other temporary footbridges.
Last month Col Gaith al Zaabi, the director of the Ministry of Interior’s traffic department, called on municipalities to install lifts at footbridges. He also said municipalities should add control systems for pedestrians in front of crossings with traffic lights and do more to deter jaywalkers, such as ensuring broken construction barriers are fixed promptly.
Twenty-six people were killed crossing roads in Abu Dhabi in the first 71 days of this year.
With few mid-block crossings in the capital, pedestrians have a choice of walking sometimes a kilometre between traffic signals or dashing across the road during breaks in traffic. Motorists rarely slow down for them.
Several pedestrians yesterday said they chose to cross at street level near the mall because it was easier than climbing the footbridge.
Hamed Ali Ahmed, 22, who works at the mall, said he sometimes used the bridge, but that when he was in a hurry to get to work he would cross at street level.
Leigh Bracken, 36, from Australia, who works for Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said he found it quicker to cross on the street but he would do so only if he felt there was enough time to get across all the lanes. He worried that someone would be struck while waiting to cross in the middle of the road.
Report by Matthew Chung, Photo by Sammy Dalal THE NATIONAL
I sincerely thank THE NATIONAL for listening and highlighting the safety issue and following it up with the concerned authorities. Look forward with excitement to the new state-of-the-art facility to carry pedestrian across the road in the city centre. At the same time, I keep my fingers crossed that no untoward incidents happen and no life is lost till the time this is implemented.