ABU DHABI // Residents and visitors darting through high-speed traffic to get to Abu Dhabi Mall is an all-too-common sight.
The “no pedestrian” signs, a footbridge across to the mall and another near Le Meridien Hotel are being routinely ignored by many and even a Dh200 fine for jaywalking has failed to deter hasty pedestrians.
At 4pm on Monday, in a 30-minute period The National counted 42 pedestrians crossing three lanes of traffic to and from Abu Dhabi Mall. Less than half that number took the stairs.
Many find it easier to take the risk and dash across the street. Among the jaywalkers were two couriers, a woman and her young daughter, a pregnant woman, two women wearing abayas, an Abu Dhabi Co-op staffer with a trolley filled with groceries, men in business suits, and groups of mall shop workers.
A 27-year-old banker, who did not wish to be named, said a jaywalking ticket would not deter him from crossing illegally.
“I got a fine about three years ago,” he said. “I’m so tired and I just want to get into my car now. I just don’t care if I get a fine right now.”
In March 2008, police raised the fines for jaywalking to Dh200 from Dh50, saying the lower penalty had failed to deter pedestrians.
The elevator installed near the pedestrian bridge had also done little to encourage pedestrians to use it, he said.
“It takes five minutes each to get up and down,” he said. “They need to do something about it.”
On Monday, the entrance to the elevator was cordoned off by police tape.
“This elevator is for the physically handicapped, visually impaired persons and senior citizens only,” a sign read.
A security guard said jaywalking tended to be a group activity.
“At 6pm, they all come in groups,” he said. “It’s illegal and dangerous, but they prefer to cross the road.”
Two Filipina service crew were apologetic when asked why they had crossed the road instead of using the footbridge.
“We’re really sorry,” one said. “We know it’s wrong but we’re late for work.”
Police are stationed near the mall to conduct random inspections and issue jaywalking fines.
“They’re usually here at 7pm,” the mall guard said.
Sajith Raj, 27, a fireman in Abu Dhabi for five years, said it did not make sense for people to dash across lanes of traffic and put themselves in harm’s way.
“I always use the bridge when I visit the mall,” said Mr Raj, who crossed over with four friends. “Apart from being dangerous and illegal, a lot of time is wasted waiting until the vehicles pass.”
Mani Alumuthu, 42, a marketing officer who has lived in Abu Dhabi for four years, agreed.
“The Government built this bridge with the pedestrians’ safety in mind, but unfortunately only a few are using it.”
In February, Abu Dhabi Municipality announced measures to improve the safety of pedestrians and road users. Pavements have since been widened and standardised, new fencing to prevent jaywalking has been erected and electronic directional signs have been installed.
The Abu Dhabi Police Traffic and Patrol Directorate reported in July that its campaign “Towards Reducing Serious Injuries and Death Rates Caused by Run-Over Accidents” resulted in a 59 per cent fall in deaths caused by run-over incidents in the past five years.
“But the majority of the residents lack a safe traffic culture,” said Ramesh Menon, a technical officer at an oil firm in Abu Dhabi and a resident for 25 years.
“It’s very sad to see women with their children who repeatedly cross the road in undesignated areas. They are supposed to educate them and spread road safety awareness and help save lives.”
All pedestrians and cyclists should remember they have a key responsibility for their own safety, said Dino Kalivas, chairman of the driver education and training committee at the International Road Federation.
“They should stop one step back from the kerb or shoulder of the road if there is no walkway and listen in all directions for approaching traffic,” he said.
“They should also think about whether it is safe to cross the road, when the road is clear or all traffic has stopped, and observe the traffic lights and signals.”