Walking in Dubai is certainly not the primary transport mode, however the efforts done in the last couple of years show that there is room for great improvements. Although Dubai is a city designed for cars, major investments in public transport are now opening the possibility for a more pedestrian-oriented public realm.
At planning level, a dense road network with great routes choice encourages pedestrian movements, as shorter and direct travels are possible between most of the functions. Systematica’s involvement in Jumeirah Central Development (formerly Mall of the World) for a duration of 18 months, the visionary project which sought to weave its public realm into a dense pedestrian network, had proven, on paper so far, that grid patterns and road configurations, mixed land use, investment in public transportation and innovative climate controlling could be a keystone in delivering a walkable city, even in Dubai.
Throughout the process, planning efforts were concentrated on developing appropriate block sizes, mid-block connections, functional distribution, retail-activated ground floor and several other factors that are expected to contribute to the success of the walkable city. Different land use mixes were tested for generating a high number of internal trips, achieving around 8-12% of total movements. Together with the developed public transport network that reaches a PTAL 5 on average, around 60,000 pedestrian movements are expected during a single peak hour.
Beyond said planning efforts, the pedestrian network was engineered with a dual objective: to ensure pedestrian mobility in both winter and summer and at every hour of the day. Movements were fully modelled in order to validate planning decisions and ensure maximum network flexibility and attractiveness, where for instance, a winter-to-summer path detour (due to climatic change) does not exceed 50m. While movement during winter time (good weather) is determined by natural desire lines, pre-configured and intelligently distributed climate-controlled paths in summer are planned to ensure comfort at all possible paths whereas the distance between climate-controlled and non-climate controlled paths do not exceed 20 to 40 meters, a threshold that results from in-depth studies for identifying the human body’s limit to maintain its comfort conditions before falling into discomfort again further to a change in external temperature.
Efforts made for making walking in this 2km2 development in Dubai pleasant are numerous, achieved without an increase in investment cost. This effort on the contrary required an overall review of the BAU planning approach and mindset which defined the local planning norms in the past decades, often steered by the need to meet delivery deadlines. For the first time, Jumeirah Central developers have decided to put “time off the table”, quoting Tim Magill (Design Principal, 5+Design), and focus on showing Dubai something unprecedented with a modest effort to undo some of the planning flaws and to design a city for its users and not their cars.