Dubai - A transit-friendly city

Dubai - A transit-friendly cityImage Credit: Supplied

Mass transit connectivity has now become an important element in the sign mega developments. This trend is expected to trigger a paradigm shift in public transportation services, ultimately helping reduce traffic congestion and enhance pedestrian access to various integrated public transport systems.

Emergence of a trend

The push towards more integrated transport systems is manifested by the emergence of Transit Oriented Developments (TOD), which experts believe is long overdue in the UAE. TODs are traditionally mixed-use developments that are designed to maximise community access to public transport. These often incorporate features that encourage transit ridership for those taking the metro, tram, bus or water taxi. TODs are surrounded by relatively high-density development and lower-density development progressively spreading outward from the centre. Generally located within a radius of 400m-800m from a transit stop, these developments are considered appropriate for pedestrians, as they solve last-mile connectivity issues.

''The UAE is rapidly catching up with Asian cities like Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo where we have been integrating transit systems to intensive developments for decades,'' says Michael Fowler, Managing Director — Middle East of Aedas, the firm that designed the Dubai Metro's stations and control centres. ''We expect the UAE to take TODs to the next level, raising the bar globally.''

Best practices

The UAE has in fact mastered the basics of TODs, according to Fowler. He cites the Union Oasis Project of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), which includes collocation of offices and residential facilities, pedestrian-friendly circulation, inclusion of ground-level retail with a transit system, and integration of landscaped public spaces.

''The Public Private Partnership format is a best practice in the TOD sector,'' says Fowler. ''This is just the beginning. We believe next-generation best practices are being applied in design studies that will take shape in the coming years.''

Fowler believes TODs will further evolve in the future, providing much better accessibility to commuters. ''Instead of TODs being separate buildings clustered around a transit station, we look forward to seeing integrated, multilayer mega structures incorporating a transit station as only one component in the mix of uses,'' says Fowler. ''Imagine access to the Dubai Mall, for example, if the Metro station had been installed in the [mall's] basement instead of 500m away through an elevated passageway.''

Constructing transit links

Mega projects that have included mass transit links include Meraas' Bluewaters Island, which will have the 210m Ferris Wheel Dubai Eye. The RTA has awarded a contract for the entrances to Bluewaters Island, which will be undertaken by the RTA in cooperation with Meraas Holding at a cost of Dh475 million. The project includes construction of two 5.5m lanes for an automated personal rapid transit (PRT) system, which will take visitors from the Metro station to the festivities area.

''A footbridge will be constructed to link the luxury island with the waterfront of Jumeirah Beach Residence [JBR], and a teleferic [cable car] to shuttle visitors from and to the entertainment zone,'' said According to Mattar Al Tayer, Director General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the RTA.

Another project looking to connect to the existing Metro is the Dh25-billion The Villages project in Dubai South. Expected to have 20,000 residential units, the project is planned to be served by a tram that connects to the Metro. Meydan One, a 3.7-million-sq-m mixed-use development set to house the world's tallest residential tower, is also planned to feature a tramway. Dubai Holding's Mall of the World has announced transport facilities as part of its master plan, with multiple metro stations, tram stops, a bus terminal, cycle ways, a cable car and prioritized pedestrian flow throughout. ''What we are creating is essentially a seamlessly integrated core of the city, the model for which is being carefully designed to serve the emirate's economic agenda and strengthen Dubai's global positioning in tourism and unique urban living,'' says Ahmad Bin Byat, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of Dubai Holding.

Dubai Municipality also said that it has received the go-ahead from His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, for Desert Rose, a smart, sustainable city project. Situated between Al Ruwaya and Al Aweer, the project is also set to be linked to the Metro network.

The Palm Monorail is another mass transit system that serves a mega mixed use development, the Palm Jumeirah. It was supposed to have four stations but opened in 2009 with only two operational stations. It runs between the Atlantis Aquaventure and Gateway towers, with a planned extension to Dubai Internet City, where it will connect to the Metro.

The Dubai Tram, which began operations in November 2014, has provided vital public transport link to the highly populated areas of Dubai Marina, JBR, Dubai Media City and Knowledge Village. ''The Dubai Tram is primarily aimed at improving the mobility inside Dubai in general and areas of tourist and economic importance in particular,'' Al Tayer said during the first-year anniversary of the Tram. ''It has also added to the integrated mass transit systems in the emirate, and provided a smooth and highly efficient transit mode. It also supports the economy of the emirate, and contributes to reducing carbon emissions, conserving the environment and improving the living experience of residents.''

The Metro will also extend to the World Expo 2020 site, providing connection to densely populated localities and industrial zones, including Discovery Gardens, Dubai Investments Park, Al Furjan and Jumeirah Golf Estates. The 14.5km extension, called Route 2020, will branch out from the Nakheel Harbour and Tower station to the Expo site near Al Maktoum International Airport.

''The Route 2020 project conforms to the strategic vision of the Dubai Government for achieving sustainable development and developing world-class infrastructure and services,'' said Al Tayer. ''It also comes as a practical implementation of the RTA's master plan for providing multiple options of integrated mass transit comprising the Metro, Tram, buses and water transport towards realising the RTA's vision of safe and smooth transport for all.''

Benefits for residents

Many new towns created after the Second World War in countries such as Japan, Sweden and France imbibed the characteristics of TOD communities. Those built on reclaimed land in the Netherlands or Denmark integrated the concept at the planning stage, incorporating the use of bicycles as a means of daily transport. In the US, the half-mile radius has become the standard for measuring rail-transit catchment areas. Cities such as San Francisco in the US, and Montreal and Vancouver in Canada have developed strategic plans to reduce the dependency on automobiles and increase the use of public transit.

At the International Trade Fair for Transport Technology (InnoTrans 2014) in Berlin, Al Tayer had said that the government of Dubai has focused on transportation infrastructure development since 2005, having spent nearly Dh73 billion. In the UAE the new generation of mega developments are moving towards engaging the community through transit systems.

''The benefits are clear — less time spent on commuting and more time to work, play and rest, smaller carbon footprint, reduced pollution and a greater sense of community,'' says Fowler. ''The increased interaction that goes with public transit and high-density living is redefined, and is seen as stimulation rather than irritation.''

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Source: Manika Dhama, Special to Property WeeklyPW


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