Sunday, September 09, 2007

Transport

Dubai is not known as a public transport friendly city. For the great majority transport is by private vehicle or taxi and traffic congestion horror stories abound. The transport landscape in Dubai has been one of constant transformation, none in the past, however, as dramatic as what is happening today.

When I first happened upon Dubai in the year 2000 comments about the challenge of driving in the city were not infrequently heard. It was often an issue of fast drivers and confusing roads. To me with an American background, it was just a typical city with a freeway. These things made getting around faster and more efficient although they were often confusing. Dubai's freeway in 2000 was Sheikh Zayed Road. What I liked about it then was that it seemed all roads led to it. It was the way to Abu Dhabi and if one wanted to get to it he needed only head in its direction and whatever road he was on would seem to make its way to it.

I was impressed with the road network then and was conscious of the fact that it was always expanding. Literature on the city sometimes announced with pride how many roads had been constructed in a relatively short span of time.

Fast forward to Dubai 2007. SZR is double its diameter, feeder roads have quadrupled and this once lone great highway has been joined by 2 more major freeways. Even with that, complaints about traffic congestion and other woes are almost incessant and the amount of ongoing road construction is of such an unprecedented level that the road network and its level of sophistication will soon, it would seem, be 10 times what it was in 2000.

That said, Dubai is ever more a city where one is forced to rely on private transport. There is no practical way to get from Point A in old Dubai, for example, to Point B in new Dubai, except to hop in a car. The only public transport options are bus lines and a very limited number of boat crossings along the city's main waterway in old Dubai. Even with multiple expansions it has been impossible for bus services to keep up with a city that has expanded geographically 3 or 4 times in less than 10 years. Taking a bus means enduring long waits and even longer transport times. A 15 minute car ride can mean a 60 minute bus ride, not counting the wait time, and for longer distances the cost in time grows exponentially. For those reliant on public transport, the most viable option is to just not go where you otherwise might want to go. Just stay put at the labor camp or wherever you happen to reside.

This sorry state of public transportation is all on the verge of changing. By 2010, I dare say, Dubai could well be one of the most convenient cities in the world for public transport. The extent of development underway at present is so comprehensive as to include everything but air options for getting around the city more conveniently. The most dramatic of these is of course the metro system, which will provide elevated and underground rail lines. This will be supplemented by monorail and tram lines.

Perhaps even more startling than the rail transport is the planned water transport. This involves not only the addition of transport vessels along the city's coasts and waterways, but also the digging out of new waterways across desert landscapes and even through established city neighborhoods. Just like the hundreds of kilometers of new road networks constantly under development, many kilometers of canal networks are to be constructed, including one that could eventually run up to 100 kilometers when joined with existing channels.

Remarkably all this development is happening at breakneck speed and all at the same time--hundreds of kilometers of new roadways, dozens of massive road interchanges, several major bridges, many kilometers of rail networks, viaducts and tunnels, new canals and above all, hundreds if not a thousand or more new skyscrapers. It's all going on at the same time!

Dubai is a city of but one effective transport option today, the car. In just a few years one will have everything but flying craft to get around the city on.

An After-Thought

Will I sell my car! I probably won't get a new one when the current one expires. What fun is a car when one can board a water taxi, switch to a metro, transfer to a tram, hop on monorail, and finally kick back on a luxury bus--all in a day on Dubai's future public transport network. But then again, without a car to use now and then one wouldn't have the chance to scale the double-decker highway, spin around the multiple landscaped flyovers, zip through the new road tunnels are cruise above the new waterways on the one of a dozen or so new bridges.


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7 comments:

localexpat said...

I personally think that a complete overhaul of the transport system is 10 years too late. But then again.... better late then never.

Will I ever be able to get rid of my car and completely rely on the public transport system? I highly doubt it. But I do expect a significant drop in my usage of private vehicles once the public transport system is in full swing

B.D. said...

I spent my first 3 years in the UAE w/o car relying on intercity bus/taxi, bicycle and even made an effort to figure out Abu Dhabi's existing but largely camoflaged public bus system. Coming from other countries where public transport was the norm, I didn't find it so much of a hardship. I think once people get accustomed to the new Dubai networks they'll find it second nature to use.

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Anonymous said...

I feel even when these options are in place, it's going to be a while before people actually start leaving their cars at home. It generally takes a few years for efficient feeder services to fall into place for any new mass transport system. Also, switching to public transport en masse involves a bit of a culture change. All in all, I'd say 2015 is a more realistic estimate of when the situation will really ease out...that is assuming the metro remains on schedule in the first place.

Cairogal said...

Hi B.D.

I only just stumbled upon your blog today. Are you still maintaining it? Seems a while since you're post, but I've been catching up on your archives.

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