Opinion: Why Doha needs to learn to walk before it can run a metro

Shops affected by loss of parking.

Peter Kovessy

For illustrative purposes only.

Qatar resident Amy Bambridge recently returned to work after giving birth to twins, who are now toddlers. She found that the lot where many of her colleagues used to park had been turned into a massive Doha Metro construction site. This means some people are being forced to park further away and walk a short distance – something many commuters are going to be expected to do once the metro starts operating in 2019.

As Bambridge recently wrote on her blog, Escape to Qatar, there are serious obstacles – physical and otherwise – that authorities must address in order to turn Doha into a more walkable city and make public transit a feasible and attractive alternative to driving.

Whether it’s from home to the nearest metro station, or from the station to the office, there will be some walking involved for those who choose to leave their vehicles at home.

The problem is that walking almost anywhere in Qatar can be incredibly difficult – if not impossible at times – and downright dangerous. Frustratingly, there appears to be little to no effort into addressing these challenges, even as construction crews are racing to complete the metro within the next four years.

What’s wrong with walking elsewhere in Qatar? I see the following hazards on my daily walk from wherever I manage to park my car to my office, no matter which route I take:

An SUV parked on the sidewalk, blocking pedestrians.

Amy Bambridge

An SUV parked on the sidewalk, blocking pedestrians.

Cars parked on the pavements

Yes, it’s illegal. And yes, the police do dish out tickets in some parts of Doha. However it’s still pretty ubiquitous. And yes, we’ve probably all done it in desperation at some point. But it’s no fun to have to walk into the road, especially on a bend, as I do when I walk this route.

Bits of rubbish left lying in the middle of the pavement

Just to keep you on your toes. Who is responsible for this stuff? Nobody, it would seem. Imagine trying to push a baby in a stroller along this street.

Construction materials and slippery stones make walking hazardous.

Amy Bambridge

Construction materials and slippery stones make walking hazardous.

You might look at the next photo and wonder why I don’t just walk around these obstacles.

Well, see those slightly darker grey/black tiles among the grey ones on the left of the pavement? They’re marble.

It turns out that if you put just one foot on them, you go flying. I found this out the hard way. Why would one install really, really slippery tiles on a public walkway?

A random sinkhole
A deep dip in the sidewalk.

Amy Bambridge

A deep dip in the sidewalk.

I’m not sure this photo does it justice. This one is so deep that I actually need to walk around it to avoid tripping.

The pavement is sinking!

Problem No. 1 (see above) likely contributes to the unevenness of many sidewalks and walkways. Again, it’s a pretty common sight.

Using the pavement as a construction site

One might think this is a one-off and specific to where I work. It’s not. This is Doha – there are building sites everywhere.

Construction materials left on the sidewalk.

Amy Bambridge

Construction materials left on the sidewalk.

I don’t know who is supposed to regulate this stuff, but contractors seem to get away with spilling supplies and building material all over the surrounding pavements (and often roads too).

And the stuff they leave lying around is dangerous – I’ve ripped a long skirt on some of it, and probably could have ripped my leg open if I wasn’t being careful.

Every morning, I walk past a construction worker using an angle-grinder here, right in the middle of the pavement. He’s not wearing any personal protective equipment, and he has absolutely no regard for anyone walking past.

I am just grateful that I never need to walk anywhere with my kids. Although it would be nice to have the option.

The pavement coming to an abrupt end

This is also very common:

A sidewalk that abruptly comes to an end.

Amy Bambridge

A sidewalk that abruptly comes to an end.

Sometimes, it’s part of the urban design, while other times there are physical barriers in the way. How is this allowed to happen?

Dearest Doha: I love you, but you must address this! How is anyone going to use the metro when even a 100m walk is fraught with such dangers?

There needs to be a massive crackdown on construction contractors who intrude on the ability of pedestrians to use sidewalks.

The sidewalk network needs a complete overhaul almost everywhere in the city. Even when new ones have been built, they quite often end abruptly or don’t link up to anywhere useful. There are very few places to cross the roads safely.

It needs to change. We’ve got four years. Let’s make it happen.

What are your experiences as a pedestrian in Qatar? Thoughts?

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