Category Archives: Metro

Congestion Pricing

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A depressing series of studies (here, here and here) seem to indicate that no matter what we do, we will always have traffic. Building more roads, the metro and having more buses will not, it seems, make that much of a difference. People just find it very convenient to drive. The only way to make a real difference is by having a good public transport system coupled with a tough congestion charge.

Anyone who’s been to London in the past few years will have noticed that there aren’t that many cars on the road other than taxis and buses. The reason is that anyone driving in London has to pay a hefty fee in order to do so. That’s enough to persuade most people into taking the extra effort to walk to the bus or underground train. Dubai has a sort of congestion charge (Salik) which is more like a frictionless toll booth. I remember it having a positive effect.

This can never work unless we first build the public transport infrastructure. Without alternatives to driving we will just be punishing people without giving them a viable, safe and efficient option and the traffic will just migrate around the congestion charge zones creating new bottlenecks. I’m just saying that once the metro is built we may have to implement a congestion charge for it to effectively solve the traffic problem, otherwise it won’t do much.

Kuwait Metro: New Map

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Click image to enlarge (a bit)

I was just sent the redesigned plan for Kuwait Metro. I spoke to some people at KOTU and they confirmed that the metro lines are correct, but they have no idea about the tram lines; they seem to think that those aren’t very feasible and don’t know who added them to this map.

I think these latest changes are pretty great. Some thoughts:

  • No more stupid Gulf Road metro line. A major part of the original design was a line going from Salwa/Fahaheel all the way to Sharq along the coast. Imagine the sea-view in Kuwait being obstructed by an elevated railway. This is now only the case around Belajat Street, which makes sense because that area is already pretty dense.
  • Damascus Street! I’m still not sure how I feel about this, because I can’t be totally unbiased. Qortuba has 3 stations surrounding it! They’re really trying to make me happy. I don’t know how effective the Damascus line would be, though. It won’t work unless the areas undergo a complete ‘walkable street’ transformation with safer sidewalks, pedestrian bridges, bike lanes and shaded streets. As it is, I don’t see it working. The tram lines make a lot of sense to me. I could park my car/bike in the co-op, take the tram to the station and then go anywhere. I’m not sure they can work on some of the existing narrow streets, but it would make the Damascus line much more effective.
  • I’m not sure if Hawalli and Salmiya have been fully served. A lot of very dense areas don’t have a close enough metro stop.
  • They make the distinction between Park and Ride stations and simple metro stops (look for the grey ones).
  • Overall, it seems like a major shift has been made in order to make the Metro geared towards Kuwaitis living in the residential areas between 1st and 5th ring road, and away from the denser parts of Salmiya and Hawalli. I’m not sure if this was a good decision, as I doubt the residential areas will be allowed to increase their density anytime in the future. Salmiya and Hawalli residents, if given the option for a car free lifestyle, have a lot more room (politically and legally) to grow and densify even further.

The diagram I made below shows a 5 and 15 minute walk radius from every metro station. 15 minutes is a long time to walk in the summer, so looking only at the smaller 5 minute circles shows that the vast majority of the dense areas of Kuwait (except for the City) are very underserved. The relatively lower density residential areas (Nuzha, Faiha, etc) are easily accesible by comparison, which makes no sense.

Update: I don’t see why the Damascus line can’t just be a Bus Rapid Transit line, since it’s already on a pretty wide road. BRT is a dedicated lane for specialized buses driving back and forth on a fixed schedule.

Metro Worry

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A mass transit system can potentially be a very valuable investment, but the success is dependent on dense development near the stations. A line along the 6th ring road wouldn’t be very efficient because there’s no real density there. In order for it to be effective, you’d have to be able to walk somewhere.

I think we should start the metro project only in the densest areas of Kuwait, places that are already dense and walkable. Salmiya, Hawally, Farwaniya and the City are the best options.

Bneid alGar

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There is a great opportunity for the metro to revive Bneid alGar into a sort of transit oriented corridor. The area is very linear and you can walk the width of it without a problem, meaning that a metro stop at the Fahaheel Expressway side of it will be accessible by everyone living near it.

The only problem is that there is such little room between the highway and the buildings. A quick look at a typical station in Dubai shows that their development allowed for a lot more room on either side of the highway, which made it easy to build an above grade metro. I don’t think we have this luxury in Kuwait.

The obvious advantage of having lots of stops along this dense area of Kuwait is that it will link workers to the city and where they work and has the potential to encourage investment in the area, which is actually very strategically located and has the potential to be very valuable. Transit oriented development (TOD) also reduces transportation costs of the low income residents that live there. This frees up income that can be used on food, education, etc. The main reason, though, is to allow a continued development of highly dense areas without having to suffer from crippling parking scarcity and traffic gridlock. You can do that if you can pack more people into a dense area without requiring most of them to own cars, and this is the great value of transit oriented development.

Kuwait Metro: Progress

By | Metro | 8 Comments

Kuwait signed an $8 million contract with Ernst and Young to provide “consultancy services” for the Metro project. It’s weird, because E&Y are an auditor, as far as I know, and they’re not really the first name one thinks of for master-planning expertise and designing mega-infrastructure projects. Anyway, the press release for the signing ceremony, which was held last Thursday, had some interesting bits of information:

KUWAIT, Oct 21 (KUNA) — Kuwait signed on Thursday a KD 2.280 million contract with a renowned international company for consultancy services for the planned state mega project , the metro.

The signing ceremony, involving the national technical agency for studying development projects and initiatives and Ernst and Young Company, held at the Finance Ministry headquarters, was attended by Minister Mustafa Al-Shimali, Minister of Communications and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Dr. Mohammad Al-Busairi, and Minister of State of Municipal Affairs Dr. Fahdel Safar.

Speaking on sidelines of the ceremony, Dr. Safar said the metro project had been approved after extensive consultations with international agencies, adding that the service would be linked up with the buses’ transports, covering dense residential regions and minimizing usage of personal vehicles. The air-conditioned metro will run on “green energy,” he added.

For his part, Al-Busairi revealed that the cabinet legal affairs committee has recently discussed establishment of a public transportation authority to supervise establishment of a single network, combining the metro and bus services. Adding, he stressed the necessity of ensuring integration of this sector’s services. He also indicated that an aspired project would also incorporate the railway network, the telephone and post services. Adel Al-Roumi, the head of the technical agency, said the metro project would be a grand development accomplishment.

The project is designed to link up the southern and northern regions of the country and resolve the traffic congestion problem that worsens during the winter season. – Kuna

Having the bus service and Metro be under one authority is a great idea. That way they can easily coordinate with each other towards a single vision for public transportation. It seems they’re going to follow Dubai’s lead in having hard to access but dense areas be funneled by buses, which would collect all the people and basically deliver them to the nearest Metro station. That worries me a bit because it seems to indicate that the Metro would just follow the highways, as with Dubai, and not really provide a catalyst for urban development and walkability. I hope i’m wrong. There’s an advantage to it following the highways, obviously (it’s easier and cheaper), but that kind of misses the point and the unique opportunities that a rapid transit system can offer.

Thoughts on the Metro

By | Metro, Urban | 6 Comments

We can’t simply think of Kuwait Metro as an independent project. It should be seen as an integral element that is part of a multi-layered transportation network. For example, the small train that will be part of the Salmiya Park project should have easy access to a metro stop to basically expand the alternative transportation network beyond the metro itself.

Streetcars and buses are viable alternatives to patch urban areas that are inaccessible to the metro. These have to be planned together and put in place simultaneously. These can both provide shortcuts in the metro routes, as well as expanding the catchment areas where people can comfortably walk to a station. This is important in the dense urban areas. I can imagine a streetcar running through Canada Dry Street in Shuwaikh:

Most of the above ground rail lines will have to be elevated because in most places there simply isn’t any room for an on-grade light rail. This means that the stations will have to be elevated as well, like in Dubai. Access to the station (stairs, escalators, elevators) will have to be integrated into the pedestrian flow of the existing fabric. That is really hard and expensive. It has to be as easy as possible to walk to one of those things.

This is really ugly. Hilali street is going to be one of the busiest in Kuwait in a few years and will have lots of people walking on it once alHamra and United are finished. I would try to avoid elevated lines as much as possible (they cost a lot more than just building it on the ground). I would gladly sacrifice a lane on either side to make that happen. In fact, I would want it to look like this:

I moved the four lane two-way street to the north side and made the south side of the street pedestrian + light rail. I did the same thing for Canada Dry Street in the image earlier. That’s really the only way to keep the light rail network on grade because you save some space by removing the useless island that was in the middle of the road. It would be a bad idea to have an elevated light rail in the middle, flanked by a street on either side. I hope they don’t end up doing that because it’s the easier option (politically) even though it would end up being more expensive.

Event Recap: Pecha Kucha

By | Architecture, Metro, Neighborhood, Other, Social, Urban | 14 Comments
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6dtbe-w7PA]

 

There was a huge turnout at PK#4, more than #3. I’m guessing it was over 300 but I could be wrong, it might have been more. Thanks to Dr. Aseel and all the organizers for their wonderful job, and I hope the next one is even better. For those that were there, thanks for coming and i’m sorry I had to read it from my iPhone. I couldn’t wing it, and since there wasn’t a podium I couldn’t bring notes.

For those who weren’t there, i’ll post the entire presentation:

People tell me that it’s just too hot to walk in Kuwait. That there’s no point in designing outdoor spaces because you can’t use them. I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse. I believe that the way we built the city has forced us to think like that, and not the other way around.

If you look back at all the major developments of the past 20 years, you’ll find that they’re mostly private shopping malls. The problem is that they’re very inward looking. They don’t interface with their surroundings. We end up with great looking buildings but isolated buildings. They’re not part of an urban fabric and they’re very self serving. You can pick them up and plop them anywhere and it wouldn’t make a difference.

It’s now a sort of virtual city where every place is a destination but there’s nothing in between. Just a transitory haze you see outside a car window. So we begin to ask ourselves, for a nation so wealthy, why is our public space so impoverished?

All of these small decisions accumulate and start to develop into a sort vicious cycle. Places are isolated and you can only get there by car. You have to drive now to go anywhere. This makes the city car dependent which encourages more driving. The cycle goes on and on forever and we no longer have a choice.

A good example of this design mentality is Arraya. The face of the building is entirely wasted. They ignored what I think is the most important part of the building. There’s actually a service corridor behind that wall. The space looks nice, but it doesn’t really do anything. It’s a wasted economic opportunity.

What if they decided to open up the wall to the shops and restaurants inside? You’d have a similar sort of experience as Salhiya and the Slider Station strip and it would have been a wonderful place to be this time of year. The action is an alluring invitation.

Our residential neighborhoods are slowly turning into glorified parking lots. Sometimes you’re forced to walk on the street because there’s no room. People have become anonymous within their own neighborhoods as there’s no public space to meet and for kids to play and no room to walk and exercise.

That’s because there’s a sort of uniform density in most areas that imposes just one dwelling type to exist; the large family home. The problem now is that so many people want to live in those areas that the density keeps increasing. More people and cars are filling up the same space and it’s reaching a critical mass where it no longer works.

What if we go back in time. What could we have done differently? What would Kuwait be like?

An important step would be to introduce a way to have two different dwelling types to exist and compliment each other. We would do that by having a varied density to the residential areas. In the middle, instead of the shopping center, we would have a high density core.

Surrounding that would be spaces that have much lower density. There would be wide, green public spaces with large front gardens and a long strip for walking, separate from parking. Most importantly, there’s now enough room to have trees lining every street on both sides.

This would create shade and filter the air the air from dust. There’s room for kids to play and people to meet and exercise. In the dense core, we would have a mixed-use urban park, with restaurants and shops and green areas surrounded by a few apartment towers. Most of the apartments will have people from the neighborhood living in them, people that want to live close to their families but can’t afford to buy a house.

So instead of building a floor on their existing home and ruining it and adding more cars, they could just live a few blocks away in a comfortable apartment. So now we have two dwelling types that are sharing the same walkable space; single family homes and apartments. Two modes of living that accommodate different lifestyles and budgets.

Another thing we would have done is build the Kuwait Metro. This project has been in the planning stages for decades, and I hope now that Dubai has beat us to it, that we might start getting jealous and build one ourselves. Kuwait can benefit a lot more from a metro, because we already have somewhat walkable areas, such as parts of Hawalli, Salmiya and the City and linking them together gives people the option of living a car free lifestyle.

As you can see, all of the major university campuses, malls and ministries have a metro station. I’d also have one at the urban cores of the residential neighborhoods, so you have a stop in Qortuba, Keefan, Al Nuzha, etc. This would mean that all of our urban cores are now linked together. A dense network of walkable spaces will start to emerge around each metro station. You would now have the option of walking anywhere you want.

All these decisions will start to accumulate and a virtuous cycle now starts to form. More walking encourages safer streets, which encourages more people to walk, and people attract more people and it keeps getting better and safer.

What emerges from that is a dense, rich, urban ecosystem where multiple modes of transportation interact to compliment each other. The city will feel far more alive and nourished. You can encourage social and economic progress through good urban design, and simply saying that it’s just too hot to try isn’t really good enough. We can do a lot better.

Residential Density

By | Architecture, Metro, Neighborhood, Social, Urban | 8 Comments

One of the main aspects of Kuwaiti residential neighborhoods is that they all have a sort of uniform density. There is really only one thing you can build, a house on a 400+ m2 plot of land. This would be more than enough for a single family to live comfortably in, with a large garden and all the things that make it feel ‘suburban’.

The problems arise when families feel forced to build larger homes to accommodate more people living in the same house; Kids get married and move into an ‘apartment’ above the house. In the past few years, most newly built homes have been designed as mini apartment buildings. This is because there is no other option. Land is so expensive that they can’t buy a house and they don’t want to move far away from their families.

What if we decided to create a residential block that has a varied set of dwelling types? Think of a generic residential area (something like Qortuba, Adailiya, etc). Most of them have a large complex in the middle, which is usually a big mess of shopping center, mosque, parking and government buildings. What if we demolished all of that and built a huge urban green park surrounded by several 15 to 20 floor apartment buildings? These would be well designed and sustainably built. On the ground plane, we could have shopping and entertainment and underground parking for all the residents. Imagine this being built in every major residential area in Kuwait.

Linked Towers, by Steven Holl

So who would live in these towers? I suggest that for the first few years, only people who already have family living in the same area be allowed to rent an apartment. This would give young couples an affordable option to live close to their family without having to alter their original house and still have the flexibility to easily move out in a few years. The active lifestyle afforded by having a dense cluster of towers around a park/entertainment urban plaza is also something that young people would love to be a part of. Another advantage is that everyone living outside the core now has someplace to walk to and visit that’s close by. As a result of the lowered density there will be far fewer cars lining the roads. Sidewalks can be much wider. We can plant trees to line both sides of every street to shade the whole thing and filter dust from the air. We can’t do that now because there’s no room. If we soak up the density from the entire area and concentrate it in the middle, we can make space for all of this.

We could even take this one step further and link all of these mini urban cores together with the metro. This would allow the people living in them to have the option of living a car-free lifestyle. They still own a car, but they don’t have to use it every day. People always say to me that only migrant workers would end up using the metro. This can be a very good solution to make it easy for Kuwaitis to find great value in using the system too.

Kuwait Metro Ridership

By | Metro, Urban | 18 Comments

It seems the initial success and glow of Dubai Metro has breathed new life into our own national project. Let’s hope for their continued success so that the fires of envy burn brighter and ignite real action. I keep thinking about the people that will end up using the metro. Who are they? What do they want out of a well functioning mass transit system? How can we make the design better?

Kuwait-Metro-Residential2

Kuwait has invited consultants to express interest in its 171-kilometre metro project, MEED magazine has reported. The estimated $7bn scheme will involve building four lanes, with 60km of the network underground. The successful developer will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the metro network for an undisclosed period of time.

-AMEinfo November 4th, 2009

So who rides the metro?

Hawalli residents:

Hawalli-Metro

There can be around 7 stops in Hawalli. That’s a fair number, but the great thing is that the Blue line and the Black line cross each other at right angles. This means that pedestrian development and density in Hawalli won’t be restricted to a linear path. The current design doesn’t make all of Hawalli entirely walkabl, but its close enough. Feeder buses can fill in the gaps. It’s important that Beirut and Tunis are well fed, but also creating a great node around Qadsiya Stadium and the new Sultan Center. I imagine that interchange would be underground and provide a subterranean link between alMuhallab, Sultan Center and the sports complex as it’s not that far between the three.

Farwaniya residents:

Farwaniya-Metro

It’s very hard to do any better than simply following the existing road infrastructure here. The place really isn’t a destination and most of the stops are funnels for people to enter the network. The challenge and the potential here is to think of the nodes as a generator for development. Mixed use spaces at every stop can make this neglected part of the country more pleasant and livable. The area is far too big, so a network of feeder buses is definitely required to make the system functional. Seeing as how the lines follow the major roads, it won’t be hard to get that to work. It has to be cheap and easy for anyone living here to be a part of the network.

Salmiya residents:

Salmiya-Metro

The entire Salmiya line is underground. Several of the stops on the line are destinations as well as dense residential areas; Salmiya Park, Khansa (Restaurant Street), Amman (a hopefully pedestrianized Salem alMubarak street), Marina Mall, Scientific Center (and waterfront). This is really the jewel of the metro system. I’d add as many stops as possible, possible 4 or 5 more to the ones already on the map above. The density in Salmiya is already there and the metro will create a virtuous spiral; more people walking creates better safety and more investment, which leads to even more people walking and the cycle improves the experience indefinitely. Salmiya Park has its own private transit system, and this could be integrated with the metro to create a shortcut in the system between Marina and the southern end of the park. The good thing about Salmiya is that most of the buildings are fairly tall and shade a lot of the sidewalks, but there has to be a major investment in planting trees and cleaning up the sidewalks making them safe, pleasant and accessible to wheelchairs.

Students:

There are 5 stops at university campuses (including a stop at Mishref that can have feeder buses into the campuses there). A lot of students enjoy driving to college to show off their cars and drive around, but most people just want to get to class. Having the option of getting there without having to worry about parking is a great relief. Also, the commute allows for precious reading or relaxing time before class.

Mall hoppers:

The Avenues, Marina Mall, alMuhallab, 360, Souq Sharq and the airport all have dedicated stops. This would help weekend traffic because people would park their car at any metro stop and then hop from one mall to the next looking for where the action is. Part of the fun is in just driving around, but not everyone wants to do that and a lot of people don’t own cars. This is good for the malls and for people who want sanity on the weekend.

Office workers:

Once a significant density is achieved in the City we can talk about having people walk around from one building to the next. Every new metro stop will act as a node of development, because every building within walking distance to a stop is connected to the network; meaning office workers can walk from any building in the network to another one without having to worry about driving and parking. On the way, there can be cafes, news stands, restaurants… A real city.

Government employees:

All the major government complexes have a dedicated metro stop. This is critical for both the employees and the unfortunate souls that have to visit them. It’s common to have to from one complex to the other, and so having them all connected is better for everyone. Parking is usually a nightmare for these places, since working hours are so short and everyone is there at the same time. A metro will provide much needed relief.

Kuwaitis:

Residential-Metro

The Gray Line links Jahra with Fahaheel, and everything in between. Most of the stops along that line will be Park and Ride stations. However, I also suggest a completely new line that would wrap around the dense residential areas between the first and fifth ring road. The metro stop would be underground and accessible from the shopping center of every area. The parking infrastructure is already there and every area has the ‘Jam’eiyah’ conveniently located at the center. A lot of people can walk to that, and those that don’t can drive and park there. I think this makes a lot of sense as it will allow for a much greater density within the residential areas. People just don’t seem to want to live further away but we’ve reached a limit because of the number of cars that we squeeze in. If we can build densely without having to park more cars that means that more people can live closer to their families without sacrificing quality of life.

Ridership estimate is at around 70 million per year, which comes around 200,000 per day. I think this is a very conservative estimate and I expect a fully functional, well maintained system to attract 250,000-300,000 per day (around 15% of our labor force). The value of the metro isn’t simply to generate a profit. Rather, it is in the unquantifiable benefits such as:

  • Rush hour traffic reduction
  • Cheap transportation alternative
  • Lower gasoline consumption (and more profitable exports)
  • Less pollution
  • Pedestrian culture will improve health standards
  • Fewer parking headaches
  • Create potential for greater density (more stuff in less space)
  • Ability to explore the city and discover new places
  • Greater potential for emergent nodes to flourish without the need for planned development

Streets

By | Metro, Qortuba, Social, Urban | One Comment

Our neighborhoods have gradually evolved to become almost exclusively dominated by the automobile. A neighborhood is more than a random collection of houses. We should strive to create rich, safe and healthy places to live. We need to create a strong framework that can help develop a robust social fabric and restore the feeling of a proud community.

8. Streets within the neighborhood form a connected network, which disperses traffic by providing a variety of pedestrian and vehicular routes to any destination.

I’m not sure how this can be retro-fit into our existing neighborhoods. Most of our inner streets are branches off a main 1st street that wraps around the neighborhood. The problem is that there is no overlaying pedestrian network to augment the streets.

People just don’t walk anymore. This means that there’s very little chance for an accidental meeting with neighbors. The space outside our homes used to be a lively social place, but now it’s an architectural afterthought; a place for mechanical process and service. There is no life outside the boundaries of our homes anymore. People have become anonymous strangers in their own neighborhoods because there is nothing that connects them with each other. The space between the home and street is where we can reintroduce this framework.

roads

9. The streets are relatively narrow and shaded by rows of trees. This slows traffic, creating an environment suitable for pedestrians and bicycles.

I think we should experiment with the idea of a shared space; meaning a street that has none of the traditional means of dividing up the road into pedestrian/vehicle areas (no curb, only road markers). This seems counter-intuitive, but wherever it’s implemented it has improved pedestrian safety by slowing down cars. Of course, this might be asking too much of Kuwaitis, but it might be feasible in areas within the neighborhood center which might have a schedule whereby driving could be prohibited at weekends.

800px-New_Road,_Brighton_-_shared_space

10. Buildings in the neighborhood center are placed close to the street, creating a well-defined outdoor room.

This is all about shading and creating a pleasant micro-climate. The courtyard cooling effect is our main weapon here; trapping a pool of cool air that is further cooled through mechanical and passive means. The center should have lots of seating and fountains. It’s the heart of the community and where the main mosque of the neighborhood is located where Friday, Qiam and Eid prayers are held.

Public-Plaza

11. Parking lots and garage doors rarely front the street. Parking is relegated to the rear of buildings, usually accessed by alleys.

This, of course, is a major part of the problem. Even when a pavement exists, it is usually filled entirely with cars. This forces people to walk on the street, which either makes them decide not to walk or exposes them to avoidable danger. This has to stop. There has to be a mechanism for punishing people for having more cars than they can handle. I would much rather have cars park on the street than on the sidewalk, actually. That would be a better solution, as it means that there is always a safe place to walk. To make this happen, new legislation would decree that a 2-3m wide sidewalk adjacent to the street on both sides of the road is public property and all cars parked on it will be fined.

qortuba_street

Of course, you can still park your car on the street. Instead of having shading devices that used to cover the parked cars, we should plant trees that line every street. This looks a lot better than shades, and also filters dust from the air.

In places where the road is way too big, we could simply increase the size of the sidewalk so that you can both park your car and walk comfortably at the same time. I’m not sure if its feasible to have street fronts that are completely devoid of cars, but the current situation should not continue.

SideAlley

-A rare side alley in a Kuwaiti neighborhood