Staying well ahead of passenger and logistics growth

The emirate’s authorities are engaging in detailed planning regarding the future of local transport infrastructure, with the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport having drawn up a range of master plans for the development of the sector. The most prominent of these is the general Surface Transport Master Plan for Abu Dhabi as a whole, albeit with a particular focus on Abu Dhabi City, that was published in 2009. The authorities are now seeking to update it, and in May 2014 three engineering consultancies were shortlisted for a contract to do so. However, as of late 2014, the winner of the process had yet to be announced. Major components of the Surface Transport Master Plan include projects to improve road infrastructure, such as the construction of a new 62-km road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, running parallel and to the south of the existing road between the two cities, that is designed to address increasing traffic (see overview).

Diversifying the transport mix away from the current reliance on car use is also a key element of the plan. While congestion is currently not a major problem in Abu Dhabi City, it threatens to become more of an issue over the longer term; the Surface Transport Master Plan warns that unless measures are taken, by 2030 morning commutes in Abu Dhabi City could take five times as long as they did in 2008. The authorities are also seeking to achieve other goals such as turning Abu Dhabi into a low-carbon economy, with this feeding back into plans for urban transport.

Diversifying Transit Offerings

In line with this, in April 2014 the government published a Walking and Cycling Master Plan, which calls for the development of a network of around 1350 km of walking and cycling paths by 2030 (950 km in Abu Dhabi City and over 450 km in Al Ain City). The plan estimates this will require investment of Dh3.1bn ($844m), Dh2.1bn ($571m) of which will be spent in Abu Dhabi, while the remainder will go to Al Ain. By investing in new infrastructure, the plan aims to double the share of walking and cycling in the transport mix by 2020 and triple it by 2030, while trebling the number of walking and cycling trips by 2020 and quintupling it by 2030.

There are significant obstacles to achieving these targets, including the UAE’s hot and humid weather and the urban sprawl of the cities of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. To address some of these challenges, the plan seeks to boost the number of short trips by foot and bike within, rather than between, neighbourhoods like the two cities’ central business districts and their residential areas. This is in line with the goals of the broader plan for the development of Abu Dhabi City set out by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC), known as Plan Capital 2030, which seeks to encourage residents to commute less and to live, work and pursue leisure activities in a single community.

“There is an increased focus on public transport and on encouraging people to walk and cycle in the updated version of the plan that we are currently working on,” said Falah Al Ahbabi, the director general of the UPC. “The city cannot continue to depend on private vehicles forever.” Urban planning efforts to support this include the development of Zayed City, a new commercial and residential hub, as an alternative to downtown Abu Dhabi so that people living outside of Abu Dhabi Island do not have to commute all the way into the centre of the city.

Improving Freight Efficiency

The walking and cycling plan was the second transport master plan to be published in 2014, following the Multimodal Freight Master Plan in January. This plan focuses on nine key areas, consisting of the four major forms of freight transport (air, rail, road and sea), as well as other issues such as sector governance and ensuring efficient multimodal connections. Among the immediate steps called for by the plan are the establishment of a research programme on freight transport in the emirate and a “robust freight data collection process” to improve on issues in the sector. It also calls for regulatory changes, in particular for safety improvements, like rules limiting driver hours.

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