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Over the next decade, Dubai will experience a refreshing change in its transport culture. Like other progressive cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Seville, Montreal and Singapore, Dubai will become a bicycle-friendly place.
And why is this a priority for us now? Because there is an intriguing connection between cycling and happiness, which, in turn, links with the emirate's strategic objective to become a city of happy, creative, and empowered people.
It is a fact that cycling promotes individual happiness, health and wellbeing. The aerobic nature of cycling works wonders for both mind and body. It is a zero-carbon mode of transport which involves a simple and inexpensive piece of equipment – which is great for our planet.
Bicycling your way helps ease traffic congestion and lessens demand for car parking spaces. And when done over practical distances, cycling can save us time and money, too.
While the multiple benefits of cycling are simple to grasp, the creation of an ecosystem that makes bicycling viable in our city is no easy task. If the city is to rise up to the challenge, it will need to work on three major fronts: its climate, its infrastructure, and the public mindset.
First, cyclists in Dubai have to contend with its climate. From May to September it would take a real enthusiast to pedal his way to the nearby grocery or the metro station. The good news is that we still have seven months when milder temperatures allow cycling to remain a viable option.
On the second front, Dubai needs to prepare both hard and soft infrastructure in which cyclists can operate in a safe way. Currently, our roads are heavily hardwired towards automobiles, not bicycles.
This leads many bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk – something not encouraged by law and hazardous to pedestrians. Besides the creation of dedicated bicycle lanes, we also need the regulations that enable cyclists to safely share the roads with motorists.
The Road and Transport Authority is already proceeding on the premise that if bicycling infrastructure is made available, people will ride. It unveiled a five-phase Dubai Bicycle Master Plan which is on track to deliver 900 kilometres of paths by 2020.
Cyclists will be able to have an easy ride from their homes to the neighbouring beaches, malls and parks, as well as to metro and tram stations. Already, stretches of dedicated bikeways have been launched in certain pockets, and services such as rent-a-bike are already in place.
More will undoubtedly follow, as an expanding track network connects with more residential areas.
The ultimate challenge is to mould the public mindset so that it embraces a culture of cycling. Decades of ruling the roads have left motorists ill-prepared to share “their space” with cyclists. By force of habit, most motorists do not mentally factor in the possibility of a cyclist's presence.
Dubai will need to creatively engage the public through campaigns and other means that are designed to bring cycling back into 'fashion' – at least as a do-able form of transport within the neighborhood – as well as establish 'road etiquette' that enables cyclists and motorists safely share certain roads.
One of the best cycling environments in the emirate will be hosted by Dubai South. Because this masterplanned residential development is centered on the happiness of individuals, “The Villages” at Dubai South will feature 20 kilometres of cycling tracks over a 5 square kilometer area, which will encourage young and old to use their bicycles.
The compact yet appealing layout of The Villages means that various components of the neighbourhood – schools, health and community centres, as well as retail complexes – will be within easy reach for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
For most of us, it is exciting to reconnect with our childhood love for the humble bicycle, and also reap the numerous health, economic and environmental benefits that come attached.
Let us all look ahead with keen anticipation as Dubai steadily executes its cycling plan, which will contribute to a healthier and happier population living in a cleaner, more beautiful city.
Check out the new developments in DIFC
Source: Rashed Bu Qara'a, Special to gulfnews.com
The writer is CEO, Dubai Aviation City Corporation