Saturday, March 31, 2007


Traffic is vying for 1st place as the most talked about issue in Dubai and it is gradually becoming the hot topic in other parts of the Emirates. So much so, that when there was a recent fire in a high-rise tower, the lead headline read, Roof fire throws rush hour traffic out of gear in Dubai. (The other hot button issue is rent increases.)

I remember, on first coming to the UAE in 2000, people were talking about traffic even then. People often compared driving conditions in Dubai with the country's other main city, Abu Dhabi, and usually concluded that it was harder going in Dubai. My own observation was that things moved faster in Dubai. Driving was more challenging on Sheikh Zayed Road, the country's first real expressway, with numerous overpasses and tunnels feeding into it. It certainly made for a thrill.

Now, however, the challenge of Dubai's roads have little to do with thrill and everything to do with gridlock. There are at least two more major expressways and many more flyovers and tunnels, but the volume of traffic has increased several times over. The prognosis is for continued exponential growth in traffic volume.

Pretty pessimistic stuff, but there is a silver lining. A large percent of the current gridlock is no less due to the preponderance of ongoing construction work meant to provide solutions to the gridlock. In this regard one has to take the discomfort with a measure of appreciation.

I would say that the RTA--the Roads and Transport Authority--is the most important governmental department in Dubai in terms of the breadth of its impact on the lives of individuals here. The challenges it faces are gargantuan, yet far from being overwhelmed this department has embarked on a wide variety of schemes to not only eliminate gridlock, but also make Dubai one of the most advanced cities in the world with regard to roads and public transport.

Case in point, a news article of 9 months back heralded, Dubai to spend Dh74b on transport system. That translates into US$ 20 billion. That is what, I would suppose, a mid-sized country might spend on transportation projects, not a single city.

The thought comes to mind of other cities and governments in the world debating for years whether or not to implement this or that new project or scheme to improve transportation, while in Dubai these things are introduced almost monthly. It isn't just talk either. Work on a new massive interchange is announced and in a year you have it. Month to month, riding along the main expressways one will find a new flyover here, new lanes there and so on. It seems the latest bridge across the Creek was started and finished in hardly a year. Not least of all is the new Metro--a 3-year project (for the 40+ kilometers of its first phase)--which while creating chaos across the city, appears to be materializing almost overnight.

People always complain about gridlock, but I see more to be thankful for than to complain. The RTA should be the most admired department in government.

528 words
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Postscript: The RTA Never Sleeps

Gulf news reports on 3 March, Emirates Road to be expanded to 12 lanes.
...meanwhile, construction on a three level interchange with 13 bridges is going on schedule on the roundabout at the Emirates Road linking Dubailand, Autodrome and Arabian Ranches.

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Macthomson said...

The RTA is indeed taking on a considerable challenge, and the establishment of a public transport infrastructure is certainly a step in the direction of a solution to gridlock.

But I worried a bit when a survey indicated that hardly any Emiratis had any intention of using the Metro, in spite of the provision of family coaches. There needs to be an effort to make using the Metro socially acceptable for all, not just for those who can't afford the RangeRover with blacked out windows!

B.D. said...

The talk of luxury coach buses and of course the so-called luxury and family cars in each Metro train is an attempt to do this. I think if the monorails and other feeder systems actually materialize there will also be the convenience factor to entice people. Also, I'm sure the novelty factor will be there in the beginning. Everyone, rich or poor, will want to at least try the metro and monorails. If they remain comfortable, clean and not over-crowded I think people will be disuaded from using cars. A big "if" I suppose, but I believe the intent is there.

On the other hand, increased public transport use will free up traffic on the roads. So in the end, economics at the personal level will probably be the deciding factor. It seems in affluent countries public transport is popular even among those who can afford to drive, as long as it is not stigmatized as transport for the poor. In US metropolitan areas this stigmatization is what often seems to happen. But go to less populated areas and more classes of people seem to make use of public transport. The limited bus system in Dubai today seems to have this problem with being stigmatized, but its primary problem is that it just isn't convenient.