Monthly Archives: November 2009

Dubai Bicycle Lanes

By | Energy, Social, Urban | 4 Comments

I was walking around Dhiyafa Street on a recent trip to Dubai when I noticed something very unexpected. In one short stroll I was passed by (and I counted them) 15 people on bicycles! It was a strange feeling. There were bike lanes. The pedestrian crossings were very safe and had traffic lights for cars and pedestrians, with those little buttons you push that tell you to wait.

Upon further investigation, I found a hidden building which apparently houses the labor force that is constructing this new part of town. You can’t really see them clearly in the photo but there are literally hundreds of bicycles there. This one labour camp is seeding a culture of pedestrian and bicycle activity in the whole area! Once the infrastructure is set up, and people see other people on bikes, they won’t hesitate to join. The idea is to give people as much choice in transportation as possible and not simply force one mode onto everyone.

I also got a chance to visit Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the people in charge there were incredibly competent and passionate about what they’re doing. Maybe the lethargic attitude in Kuwait lowered my expectations, but I really have changed my mind about Masdar. I have a good feeling now that they really know what they’re doing and that it’s not just some grand-scale publicity stunt for Abu Dhabi. There’s not much to see there yet, but they are pretty deep into the technical design phase. It was fun and a bit surreal seeing pedestrian urbanism ideas, passive cooling, smart grid technology and pricing incentives all come together in one city. The skeptic in me still thinks it’s all too good to be true, but I hope i’m wrong again.

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

Neighborhood Identity

By | Architecture, Neighborhood, Social, Urban | No Comments

This is the final post discussing the 13 points of good neighborhood design as described by the Congress for the New Urbanism. All of these ideas aren’t meant to be a guide for how to build new neighborhoods. There is nothing in the list that we can’t really do now in our existing neighborhoods. All it takes is for us identify the problems and offer solutions for this change to happen.

12. Certain prominent sites at the termination of street vistas or in the neighborhood center are reserved for civic buildings. These provide sites for community meetings, education, and religious or cultural activities.

This makes sense also because it provides people with a frame of reference. Some neighborhoods look very similar and it’s easy to get lost or simply get bored with the lack of urban character. Having an easily definable building or space is great for quickly calibrating yourself and understanding where you are. The uniqueness also embeds a spatial character and identity onto the community that will grow with time and memory.

13. The neighborhood is organized to be self-governing. A formal association debates and decides matters of maintenance, security, and physical change. Taxation is the responsibility of the larger community.

This is very, very important. We have to harness the menacingly powerful Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) mentality. Having the neighborhood be self-governing means that nobody feels powerless to change even the most minor thing. It would be fertile ground for grass-roots activism and provides a great opportunity for anyone to have their voice heard and participate. Today, the decision-makers don’t live with the consequences of their actions. If they do, they will have taken much more care in designing and maintaining our public spaces and urban character. Every neighborhood will, with time, begin to represent the values of the people who speak up. This in turn will attract people who think the same way and drive away the few that don’t.

We have to force accountability and the best way to do this is to delegate the local decision-making to the residents of the community. That’s really where democracy happens; not just the big national issues, but whether to build a wheelchair ramp to access the park toilets. If we don’t speak up, nobody will.

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