Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sentences don't reflect the crime.

Three court reports on Page 3 of Gulf News today suggest that the laws in the UAE really need an overhaul.

10-year jail term for drug smuggling

Dubai: Three men have been sentenced to ten years behind bars for smuggling, possessing and trafficking about 43 kilograms of hashish.

The Dubai Court of First Instance also fined 29-year-old J.M. and 26-year-old A.A., from Qatar, and their 30-year-old Iranian collaborator, Y.M., Dh50,000 each.

Three-year jail term for policeman who raped maid upheld

Dubai: A court upheld three-year imprisonment for a policeman who sneaked into his housemaid's bedroom and raped her.

The Dubai Court of Appeal found the 40-year-old UAE national, I.R., guilty of raping his Indonesian housemaid, R.N., as charged by the Public Prosecution.

Two jailed for 5 years for kidnapping student, molesting and attempting to rape her

Dubai: Two Pakistani men will each spend five years in jail for kidnapping a university student, molesting and attempting to rape her in their car, ruled a court.

Back in April, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid highlighted the Ministry of Justice as needing an overhaul. I do hope that the overhaul includes looking at the whole area of justice, including the law's views of the comparative seriousness of crimes.

Ten years for dealing in hashish is fair enough.

But against five years for attempted rape it doesn't compute.

Nor do either of those sentences against three years for actual rape.

Gulf news stories are here

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The new Interchange 5

Traffic is getting to be a lot less of a problem around Dubai Marina - or at least at the Dubai end.
It's still chaos at the Jebel Ali end, with the new Interchange there in the early stages, the original completed roads completely dug up and the small local roads being used for all Dubai-Jebel Ali traffic coming out of the Marina.
There's a temporary mini roundabout between Belvedere & Waterfront buildings that everything including water tankers and labourers' buses have to try to negotiate.

Then it all gets into the mess that will eventually be the new Interchange.
When it's eventually open it will mean that the half of Dubai Marina's residents living at this end won't have to go right through the Marina to get in and out. It was a blindingly obvious fault in the original plan not to have this interchange, and of course it should have been built as part of the original infrastructure.
Instead of that, the roads were completed, including landscaping, only to be completely demolished to make way for the new roads. Tens of millions of dirhams, untold lost productivity with people stuck in jams, unnecessary road chaos, pollution and frustration.
Anyway, back to the good news - here's a great shot by Imre Solt posted on Skyscrapercity giving an overview of the huge new Interchange 5 as it was a couple of days ago.

We have new routes being opened on an almost daily basis. The signage is inevitably incomplete, confusing, downright misleading, but regular users are getting used to it. Visitors are still last-second lane changing or slowing almost to a stop trying to work it out, causing unnecessary danger and hold-ups.
There are now exits to Jebel Ali/Abu Dhabi, Emirates Hills, Jumeirah Lake Towers, Al Suffouh Road, Dubai & Al Quoz, Jumeirah and others to who-knows-where.
There's a loop back in from SZR when you're coming from Jebel Ali, others in from Al Quoz, JLT and Emirates Hills it seems, and in from Al Suffouh Road. I think there will be another link direct into Media City too, from what I can work out.
I drove around on Friday trying the different options and the ones that were open seem to work well. It obviously spreads the traffic load from Al Suffouh Road, that couldn't cope with it all.
A few photos from my Friday drive of what it's like at ground level...

Beach development's developing story

The story about the possible development of Umm Suqeim beach next to Burj Al Arab just seems to go on and on.

The latest is that the dredging work now seems to have stopped. The boats have gone.

First, on March 18, I reported that a construction fence was being erected on the beach.

Then on March 30 I posted that The Big Boss ordered construction stopped and the fence removed.

On to April 10 and I had photos of the fence being removed. Looking good.

But. Isn't there always a but. Workboats were still working around the clock on something or other.

May 7 and we were talking about the construction site office adjacent to Umm Suqeim Fishing Port and the boats working 24/7 just offshore.

Now May 10 and I had photos of the brand new island that had appeared. A Boskalis Westminster flag was flying on it - it's their construction site office and they are a huge international dredging and land reclamation company.

But now, for the last week, the boats have disappeared. No more dredging, no more islands.

The little island is still there, the flag is still flying over the island and the site office, but there's no work going on.

Long may it continue. Fingers crossed.

Perfect shoal circle

Umm Suqeim beach this morning...

Strolling along, I noticed the 'shadow' in the water, went closer, and realised it was a circling shoal of fish. I'm so glad I had the camera with me.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Dubai in context...

Just to continue a little on the last subject - putting some perspective to our complaints about Dubai - because the comments raise a couple of points.

Secret Dubai made some very valid points, including "I've never thought most problems were unique to Dubai, but people blog and complain about them because we live here. Were I living in the UK I would doubtless complain about the situation there".

Very true - I also write in the Australian blogosphere and most of my postings are complaints.

But "I've never thought most problems were unique to Dubai" explains the thought that prompted me to write the post because many expats living in the artificial cocoon of their lives here, actually do convince themselves that the things they complain about are problems unique to Dubai. These things don't happen 'back home' - I very often debate the point with people.

As SD pointed out, and I'm in full agreement, there are indeed many things which need improving in Dubai, and many areas where the situation is worse than in other countries. But too many expats fall into the trap of believing that these things don't happen 'back home' , and the longer they're here the rosier the memory of 'back home' becomes. The reality is that while we do have problems here that need fixing, so does 'back home'.

The other point, which again I debate with people often, is the claim that 'Dubai compares itself with...' other cities/countries.

That came up in the comments too:

Secret Dubai said: Dubai is generally much worse than the average western country it regularly seeks to compare itself with.

dxbhack said: Dubai says "We are cheaper than Hong Kong, New York and seriously compares itself in the bigger picture with these cities?

Being pedantic, Dubai is an inanimate object, so can't compare itself with anything. So the expression actually means 'people in Dubai compare the city with'.

But I've never heard or read anyone doing this comparison and claiming that Dubai is as good as, or better than, any other city. Maybe others have, but I certainly haven't. When people have said to me that 'Dubai compares itself with' I've asked them who actually said it, and they can't tell me.

Dubai wants, has or is getting, the tallest, the biggest, the fastest, the only...but that's very different from claiming 'we're better than'.

My experience is that no-one does actually claim that Dubai is as good as or better than any other city - it's another expat myth.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Putting Dubai in perspective.

I might be rambling here and I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with it, but I'm sort-of thinking out loud.

Reading a few newspapers today several stories semed to come together in a picture of many of the things that we talk and complain about in Dubai, and they put it all into some perspective.

I've long argued, for example, that Dubai is not the overly expensive place that many expats complain it is. We have bad inflation that's pushed prices way above what they were not so long ago, but compare like-with-like and Dubai stands up pretty well.

Anyway, to the stories I read.

Rent is the number one topic of complaint, and they have rocketed up by huge percentages in Dubai, unfairly so. But...AFP in Gulf News (but not on their website) says a new study on rental apartments for expats puts Dubai down at 14 on the list. Taking unfurnished three bedroom apartments as a base because they're the most commonly rented by expats, Hong Kong is top at about AED375,000 a year. Tokyo at AED325,000, New York at AED320,000 follow, then Moscow, Seoul, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Caracas & Paris.

Then there's the price of buying property, another hot topic here. According to a Reuters story in Gulf News (not on their website) prices of prime property in central London have risen by more than 33% in the last 12 months. A property worth £100,000 (AED730,000) in 1976 would now be worth more than £4.1 million (AED29.93 million).

In Sydney, we're told:

THERE are now 42 Sydney suburbs with a median house price over $1 million (AED2.7 million), more than when the city-wide property boom peaked 3 years ago...Palm Beach has emerged as Sydney's most expensive suburb. Its median price has more than doubled in the past three years to $3.1 million (AED8.56 million). Four suburbs - Bellevue Hill, Vaucluse, Dover Heights and Clontarf - all have median prices over $2 million (AED5.52 million)...The boom at the top end of the market means about 11 per cent of suburbs now have a $1 million-plus median house price.

On to exploitation of labour and in the UK the Guardian tells us:

British law allows escape clauses from paying the minimum wage. Last week, another restaurant chain was denounced for paying its waiting staff only £3.75 (AED27.38) an hour, which is £1.60 (AED11.68) below the minimum wage. (Which is AED39)...Enforcement of the minimum wage is minimal, with only 100 compliance officers to cover the country. HM Revenue & Customs have only prosecuted one cheating employer... With £5,000 (AED36,500) as the maximum penalty, rogue employers are not deterred...Agency employees can be fired on the spot at any time within one year of employment. Frequently, they are fired just before the year's end - only to be hired again the next day. That way they can work for years for one employer with no holidays, sick pay or pensions...Their YouGov survey of agency workers finds over half have had no holiday break in the past six months. They talk of terrible conditions - 12-hour shifts at sub-zero, freezing vegetables.

None of that excuses Dubai employers exploiting workers, of insufficient inspection, of too-lenient fines - but it does show that so-called advanced societies are also guilty.

Then something I posted about on Wednesday, domestic violence. Of course, sadly, we have it here. In Australia a report says:

DOMESTIC violence against women causes about 15 per cent of the depression and anxiety affecting females, and nearly a third of female suicides, while child sexual abuse causes 10 per cent of the anxiety and depression in the entire population.

On to driving around schools, in the news here because children have been killed by vehicles over the last few weeks. From my local newspaper in Australia comes this:

TOUGH new penalties have slowed motorists driving through school zones. But it's still Rafferty's rules when it comes to double parking, dropping children off in no stopping zones and obeying pedestrian crossing regulations...Three days after the Roads and Traffic Authority introduced new penalties for breaking the road rules in school zones motorists continued to ignore laws which now attract more demerit points and heftier fines....parking in no stopping zones and across driveways, and double parking, were the most common offences...there was still the odd car ``drifting through'' when the crossing was being used.

Then bad planning, delays and waste came to mind when I read another story in my local newspaper in Australia:

The controversial new trains planned for the Central Coast were under fire on several fronts this week...criticised the State Government over year-long delays in introducing the new carriages...they would be more crowded and uncomfortable than the trains they were replacing.
...suspension problems needed to be fixed before the trains could begin running in then many commuters would be committed to using their cars.

The State Government is spending $439 million (AED1.2 billion) on 122 of the new outer suburban carriages. They were to begin operating to the coast this year. But even when they did arrive overcrowding and lack of toilets would be problems. The V Set trains now used had the equivalent of a toilet for every carriage, the new ones would have one toilet for every four carriages and ``that's just not enough.''

Seating would also be less comfortable.

The coast's exploding commuter population needed an attractive rail service.

The introduction of the trains had been delayed because ``minor vibrations'' had been discovered in some carriages...some fine tuning of suspension systems was being undertaken to correct the problem.

I'm not for one moment suggesting that because something happens elsewhere that it's acceptable in Dubai. Nor am I suggesting that if we see something that should be exposed and improved that we should turn a blind eye. Of course these things should be pointed out, otherwise they'll never be improved.

I am, I suppose, saying that we shouldn't fall into the trap of believing these things happen only in Dubai, that Dubai is uniquely guilty. What are considered more socially and legalistically advanced countries, the countries we come from, have many of the same problems. Indeed, they have more in some instances, such as crime. Dubai is part of the global community, it's becoming a big international city, it has a lot of catching up to do...but maybe our expectations are too high? Are we expecting Dubai to have none of the problems that other countries have?

On the cost of living thing, I'm also suggesting that prices here need to thought of in perspective against other cities, not against 'what they used to be'. That comparing the rent of a luxury apartment in Dubai Marina with a small flat in an English provincial town is not a fair comparison, it's not like with like.

If you want to read the original stories, here they are:

March of the million dollar suburbs.

McJobs are giving Britain a reputation...

The preventable things making us sick.

New rules ignored.

Controversial new trains.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New zoo - or is it another false dawn?

According to a report in Gulf News, we'll soon will be rid of Dubai's disgrace of a zoo.

Dubai Municipality says work on the new one at Dubailand will start in as little as two months and it should be ready by September next year.

Talk about a new zoo has been going on for at least twenty years, so I'm not holding my breath.

Still, none other than the Director of General Projects Department, Rashad Bukhash, is quoted as saying that a consultant has been selected, a contract will be signed in about two weeks and that building will commence in July or August.

The animals and anyone concerned about their welfare will be very happy if, finally, it does happen.

Gulf News story here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

justice shmustice

These two headlines are side-by-side in today's Gulf News, possibly without intentional irony:

During investigations, S.N. admitted to beating his wife for the previous two months. On this particular day he beat her to death with a rubber pipe, having earlier slapped her in the face, left the house, come back later, slapped her a few times in the face, dragged her by her hair to her room where he beat her to death.

He was sentenced to ten years, then on appeal by the prosecution to death - a fair sentence in my opinion - but it has been commuted by the Supreme Court to eighteen months jail followed by deportation.

In the adjacent story Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Al Hosani, director of the Community Policing Department at the Abu Dhabi Police says:
"Violence against women is not a phenomenon in the UAE because UAE laws do not tolerate it and great effort is made to curb it...

What a pity that S.D. didn't do something really serious like making a rude gesture or swearing at the police which would bring the full weight of the law down on him.

You can read the stories here and here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

'You can believe me, I'm from the RTA'

"Authority dispels fears of clogged Dubai roads."

Oh, that's OK then, we can all relax and drive about the place without any problems.

No more 'can't go there, the traffic's too bad' mutterings from us.

Want to go to dinner in Deira when you live in Dubai Marina? It's not going to be a problem any more, obviously.

Who tells us this? None other than Engineer Maitha Obaid Bin Udai, who as we all know is in a position to know these things. She is indeed the Chief Executive Officer, Traffic & Roads Agency at our beloved RTA.

The eagerly-anticipated Salik road toll stuff up system is going to reduce traffic on the short section of SZR that it covers by 25%, encouraging us to "use alternative roads and public transport."

Public transport?

Maitha Obaid Bin Udai with Salik sticker.
Photo: Gulf News

Maitha says the toll will not create traffic congestion (contradicting the Chief of Traffic Police and the entire motoring public of Dubai). Even though it starts to operate on July 1st it somehow links in with the future - 'the expected opening of the floating bridge, the new (2008) Al Garhoud Bridge, the widening (when?) of Emirates Road'.

And "...the floating bridge will reduce traffic on Maktoum Bridge by 37%."

Ummmm...the toll on Garhoud Bridge will send more traffic to Maktoum bridge. That's the whole idea of it, to get traffic off Garhoud.

My head hurts.

Gulf News report: Salik is coming.

*Shakes head in disbelief*

Here are highlights from what a report in Gulf News says:

"Nakheel...will potentially supply more than half of all the residential developments being built...

Supplying this huge area with electricity and water is likely to place considerable strain on Dubai's existing services...

...It has forced senior Nakheel officials to meet with members of Dewa (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) to hammer out a plan to meet future utility requirements.

"...we received an overall brief about Nakheel projects power and water demands and expected date of requirements,"

Are they telling us that this hasn't been done before? They haven't previously been briefed on, or bothered to ask about, 'power & water demands and date they're needed'?

That the explosion of development is happening without any thought to supplying the basics of water & electricity? That the suppliers of the means to stay alive weren't consulted and haven't asked?

That we're five or six years into the development, with thousands of families already occupying their new homes and businesses in their new offices, before the players get their heads together?

Actually, the evidence is pretty clear that in fact it did happen that way. As a new building goes up the roads, footpaths, landscaping, even entrances to existing buildings, are dug up so that pipes and cable can go in. Why weren't they there right at the beginning, when the Master Plan was approved?

It seems DEWA isn't aware of what's happening. It would appear that no-one's been talking to DEWA and on its part DEWA hasn't been talking to them.

Gulf News report: Nakheel forms strategic link with DEWA.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

Oh, the irony.

In view of the American administration thrashing around the world accusing all and sundry countries of money laundering, thus aiding what BushW insists on calling 'tearists', I thought this was an interesting story:

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.

I can't even begin to imagine what it it means to them.

The Dubai Government Excellence Programme rewarded 25 'unsung heroes' for their dedication doing their behind-the-scenes work.

Two lowly employees in particular have been in the news; Syed Sulaiman, a cleaner from Tamil Nadu, and Mohammad Nazir, a Pakistani gardener.

Mohammed Nazir, left, & Syed Sulaiman, presented with
their awards by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid.
Photos: Devadasan. Gulf News

Part of the award is for each winner to receive AED50,000. Which is US$13,595.

To put that into context, Mohammed's salary is AED1,200 a month and Syed's is AED850 a month. That's US$326 and US$321 respectively. A month.

On those salaries they've not only kept themselves but their families back home. Now they have a sudden and totally unexpected windfall of the sort of money they couldn't even have dreamt about.

Good luck to them.

Gulf News reports on the two are here and here.

Police chief vs RTA (cont'd).

It's good to see that Dubai's chief of Traffic Police is unrelenting on exposing and criticising the mismanagement of the RTA. He talks a lot of sense, obviously knows his job very well and, unusually in this region, does not hesitate to express criticism of things he believes to be wrong.

Brigadier Mohammed Saif Al Zafein is again attacking the ridiculous toll road decisions taken by the RTA, and has added the telling statement that: "The RT officials didn't approach the traffic department for consultation or advice in our speciality, which is road safety and traffic flow. We learnt about it from the media."

His criticism of the new toll goes into quite some detail of its likely effects, none of them positive. Drivers will simply skip around the two toll reader points, we don't yet have a fully functioning road system or public transport network, alternative roads can't take the planned extra diveted traffic. "...if they go ahead with it, it will negatively impact motorists and traffic accidents will increase." he said.

Its satisfying to have someone of the Brigadier's position highlighting some of the deficiencies of the RTA. I've been doing that for a long time (my label 'mismanagement' will take you to the posts) but no-one in a position of power even knows about this blog, let alone reads it, so it's no more than me getting frustrated and letting off steam. The Brigadier, on the other hand, is in a powerful position, the media reports what he says and I'm sure he has wasta - whether he or the RTA has more is the key question.

The Gulf News report is here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The buck stops where?

From Ras Al Khaimah comes the story that three people out for a stroll fell into an unmarked open manhole, having to be rescued by Civil Defence.

Gulf News says:

"The three expatriates were taking a walk in the neighbourhood with some of their friends on the day the incident occurred. They were not aware that there was a huge hole in the street and fell in, their friends said.

It raises an interesting point because in Australia, and most other western countries, there would be a court case against the authorities. Compensation payments amounting to possibly millions of dollars would be paid. Then there would be panic measures to make sure anything even vaguely likely to be a hazard was in future clearly marked so that even an idiot could recognise the 'danger'.

Here the onus is on the individual to be responsible for him/herself.

I must say I lean towards the latter - with the proviso that the perpetrators have some responsibility based on that most uncommon commodity, common sense. The west has gone too far one way, here we're too far the other. As always, the answer is somewhere in between.

An unprotected hole in a badly lit street isn't acceptable. A dangerous overhang isn't acceptable. But a warning on a hot-water tap that the water is hot is a step too far.

We have many examples in Australia of idiots who dive off bridges into a foot of water, obviously crippling themselves. They successfully sue the council concerned, being awarded millions, because there wasn't a warning sign in place. You know..."If you dive headfirst into a foot of water from a height of twenty feet you're likely to hurt yourself".

Let's not go to to those extremes, but I do think it's something the authorities here need to look at. Personal responsibility, yes. But also the enforcement of some sensible health & safety regulations.

The Gulf News story is here

The heat killed my shoes.

Walking alongside the beach my shoes felt as though they were sticking to the footpath.

I checked for chewing gum - nothing. But the soles were very hot.

A couple of minutes later there was a flapping feeling and sound. I looked down and both soles had come away from the uppers.

So the heat from the footpath was causing a stronger grip than the glue that was holding them together.

And it isn't summer yet.

Monday, May 14, 2007

More landscaping please...

The seemingly endless construction and the ubiquitous red & white cones and bits of flapping plastic that surround us down here in 'New Dubai' really do add to the frustrations, the unpleasantness of driving. And it makes it unnecessarily tiring, just endless red & white industrial-looking stuff in your face all the time.

But even in amongst the worst of Dubai Marina's road planning stuff-up there are some welcome little oases - nowhere near enough, but there is some grass, there are a few flower beds and date palms. Pleasing on the eye, a break from the construction, relaxing. It makes it just that little bit better to drive around.

But when you get to Al Sufouh Road, then into either Beach or Al Wasl Roads, it really does start to have a relaxing, calming effect. And it's looking particularly good right now:

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Another world record...

...this time it's not Dubai though, it's Abu Dhabi.

A world record price paid for a vehicle number plate. Dh25.2 million.

That's US$6,850,000.

It was the price paid for the number '5' by Abu Dhabi-based businessman Talal Al Khoury, who beat off two rival bidders.

Mr Al Khoury bought two more numbers - number 55 for Dh6.5 million and number 45 for Dh5 million. So for three number plates he paid a total of Dh36.7 million, or US$9.98 million.

On the surface this is consumerism gone mad - but it isn't at all.

The auction was held to raise money for people with special needs and accident victims. Dh100 million was raised (US$27.2 million).

Mr Al Khoury is quoted as saying: "All the money I have does not belong to me, it is given to me by God for a reason. I am giving back this money to those who need it." He added: "The number does not mean anything to me. I will keep it and after my death it will be re-auctioned and probably raise more money that will again be given to charity and humanitarian work."

Gulf News report.

Summer's coming.

The weather report on Dubai Eye Radio said: "It will be warm in Dubai this afternoon with the temperature set to reach 43 degrees"

That's 110 degrees if you're used to fahrenheit.

The humidity is up too - this morning at Umm Suqeim there was so much humidity that mist was obscuring the top of Burj Al Arab.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Beach development seems not to have stopped...

...but surely they can't be ignoring Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid's order?

If you go here you'll find my earlier postings with the story from the time a construction fence suddenly started being built to close off the beach next to Burj Al Arab, through the press announcement of the development, on to Sheikh Mohammed's order for it to be cancelled, then on the mysterious and continuing offshore work.

You can find some good photographs of the work boats on NZM's blog posting on the story at M&J Adventures.

Yesterday I saw that a small island had appeared where the dredger has been working, today I took my camera and here it is. I'm standing on the wall of Umm Suqeim Fishing Port, which is about 700 metres from Burj Al Arab:

That wasn't there three days ago. The barges and dredger are working non-stop, so I assume much more new land is going to be appearing very soon.

Over at the Skyscrapercity thread on this development there's this render of a development on this site:

I'm not sure whether this is a vague general idea or a serious proposal, because it has not only the offshore marina section but comes in across the beach and back beyond it - and that's getting into the area where there are villas and Umm Suqeim Park.

Back to the offshore work - the question has to be, what is going on?

It can't be the development announced by Zabeel Investments, surely, because Sheikh Mohammed stopped that. There are rumours that it's a development at the fishing port and that would make sense because that's where this first island has appeared.

Wouldn't it be nice to know for sure.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bad signs & bad drivers don't mix well.

Yesterday I spoke about the newly opened turn-off on Dubai Marina's ring road, which takes traffic direct by flyover to SZR into Dubai.

I said about it: "Unannounced of course and with just one sign right at the entrance so it's catching motorists out. That means last minute lane-changing adding to the hazards on the road."

This morning the car in front was sitting in the left lane, which had been the only road until yesterday. At the new fork he suddenly realised he could go the new way - but he wasn't up to it.
So typical of far too many of Dubai's drivers he simply wasn't a good enough driver to either realise he'd left it too late and abort the manoeuvre or to cope with it when he'd made the decision to change lanes.

Mrs Seabee happened to have her camera in her hands.

Two seconds before this he'd been directly in front of me, bearing left. He lurched to the right to try to get into the new Dubai lane, overdid it by a mile, overcorrected and lurched back left straight into the cones and sandbags between the lanes.

Nice driving. Knows his car, knows his own ability.

Had he made it onto SZR he'd probably have been one of the drivers confident enough in his own ability to be weaving in and out at 150kph.

Drivers who make the wrong decisions and who can't control their vehicles are the main problem, but the signage is without a doubt adding to the number of crashes.

Earlier postings on signage problems here and here.

Just stunning.

Strolling along Umm Suqeim beach yesterday morning and the sea was a particularly beautiful colour. I had the little digital camera with me, wasn't convinced it would capture the colour but I took a photo anyway. It lost a bit of the vibrancy of course, but it came out pretty accurately.

A little further along and this is the picture:

The beaches are one of Dubai's huge assets for residents and tourists. Let's hope we don't lose any more to development.

Smoking ban - but will it be enforced? And how?

It seems there's another attempt to ban, or at least limit, smoking in public buildings, with all the morning papers carrying the story.

The instruction has come from the Dubai Executive Council with details to be officially announced on May 31.

If I understand the usual somewhat unclear reports, it will begin with a ban in government & 'public' buildings and educational facilities on May 31, then in shopping malls and 'amusement centres' from mid-September and from mid-November all food establishments, beauty salons, hotels and cinemas will have to abide by the rule.

Fines, unspecified at this stage, will begin to be imposed from the beginning of 2008.

There will be a blanket ban on smoking in schools, educational establishments, salons, health clubs, internet cafes, food courts and offices. Shopping malls, cafes and restaurants won't have a total ban, but must have smoking lounges or areas which must have adequate ventilation and/or smoke absorbers. People under the age of 21 will not be allowed to enter these smoking areas.

So far so good. The proof will be in the enforcement, something that Dubai is not very good at. We have regulations but little regulation. Traffic rules, construction site safety rules, permitted construction times, parking rules, all are routinely ignored and there's little enforcement.

How and by whom they will be enforced is another question.

Will 'security' personnel in various buildings such as malls and cinemas be trained in how to approach smoking-ban violators? How to deal with refusals to 'stub out'? How to deal with being ignored, or abused? And then what? Will they call the police? Can they detain the smoker until the police arrive?

Who will have the power to issue fines? Will they be on-the-spot fines? How will the fines be enforced?

There are more questions than answers at the moment.

Smoking bans work with the support of the population, as they have in various cities around the world. The big question is whether Dubai's population will be willing to go along with the regulations.

I have my doubts.

A couple of the stories:
Gulf News
Khaleej Times

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

New roads open in Marina

Another new flyover, part of the massive new Interchange 5, has suddenly opened this morning.
Unannounced of course and with just one sign right at the entrance so it's catching motorists out. That means last minute lane-changing adding to the hazards on the roads.

It's goes off right from Dubai Marina's outer ring road (I do wish they'd name the roads!) just in front of Phase 1 and obviously swings across Sheikh Zayed Road. The sign says it's to Al Quoz and Dubai, so it must have two exits at the other end, one onto SZR and the other into the industrial area.

It will hopefully ease the jam that tails back along this road from the Mina Seyahi traffic lights. They also seem to have changed the timing of those lights, so the traffic from Dubai Marina towards Media City is slightly less gridlocked now.

One of the things adding to the congestion has been the opening of yet another of Interchange 5's flyovers, a couple of weeks ago. This one comes in from SZR from the Jebel Ali direction - instead of manoeuvring through the vast construction site that is Interchange 5 you now filter off SZR to the right and find you're on a flyover above the confusion. Another flyover from somewhere-or-other joins it halfway along, then you have a choice of three exits.

I was so bemused by it all I can't remember the third one but one is Al Sufouh Road another is Dubai Marina. That takes you out at the little local traffic light junction at Phase 1, the entrance to what was the overflow car park and Spinneys.

You can see this flyover just to the right of centre in this photo - you can also see here's still a lot of work to be completed and it's going to have roads coming and going from all directions by the look of it.

I've been avoiding this gridlocked area for a couple of weeks, going the long but quicker way to Ibn Battuta Mall and back along SZR to Media City. Tomorrow I'll give the Marina way a try to see whether it's any better.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Umm Suqeim beach questions.

There are still questions being asked, and a lot of speculation, about the fate of the beach next to Burj Al Arab.

This is the beach that was fenced off for development before Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid ordered it to stop.

The doubt arises because there's mysterious work being done just offshore by two workboats and a semi-permanent site office complex has been set up next to the little fishing port.

The company flag flying above the site offices is Boskalis, which is a major dredging company.

I really don't have any knowledge of construction equiopment, but to my untrained eye the boats seem to have diggers on board and some sort of drill-like equipment. And they drag a floating boom between them - like the oil-spill booms - so I assume it's dredging going on.

This is in the area that Zabeel Investments said they were going to develop both on and off-shore, so that's obviously why there's speculation that maybe the development will go ahead. As Sheikh Mohammed has said 'no' I find that hard to believe.

But something's going on - maybe it's to do with connecting services to Palm Jumeirah...

If you click on the label beach you'll go to the earlier posts explaining the background to this story.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Oh no! Please, anyone but the RTA!

There's a good report in Gulf News today on the Creek extension project.

Here's what had me groaning "oh no":

Phase five most crucial part of project.
The extension of Dubai Creek from Shaikh Zayed Road to the Arabian Gulf through Safa Park, Al Wasl and Jumeirah is the most critical part of the project...Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has been commissioned to complete Phase five of the creek extension project.

Yes folks, the RTA. Our shining example of ' world's best practice' in planning, thinking things through, making the right decisions. As I've been pointing out these past months.

Putting the inevitable chaos aside for a moment, it's a hell of a project. The Creek will double in length, changing from a simple inlet from the Gulf that sinks into the desert after 14km to a semi-circular waterway that has a second Gulf outlet further along the coast.

Gulf News

I must say I think it's a great concept, giving us more natural water through the desert and a new, and very large, focal point. There'll be plenty of walkways and greenery alongside the new waterway, it's an alternative transportation route and a leisure facility, so it's a plus for residents and visitors.

Photo: Jumana El Heloueh. Gulf News

The problems are going to be with the 2.2 kilometres stretch across Sheikh Zayed Road, Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah Beach Road to the sea. That's what the dreaded RTA has been commissioned to carry out. They say that work will begin on this at the end of the year. As I posted previously, bridges are going to be built across the three roads, SZR with 12 lanes, 6 lanes each for the others.

Just think about the chaos with what will be needed - either one road closed for the Creek to be excavated and the bridge built across it while traffic is jammed onto the other two roads, or construction on all of them at the same time (and history tells us that'll be the way they'll do it) with diversions around construction, temporary bridges, temporary roads.

Then when it's finished and the landscaping has settled nicely, DEWA will get into its usual holescaping mode and tear it all up to dig trenches, surrounded by red and white cones & flapping plastic and piles of sand.
Actually, it's better not to think about it.
And yes, what you're thinking is correct - according to the report 'dozens' of villas will be demolished. I'd say 'dozens' is an understatement, picturing the density of villas from Al Wasl Road to the beach.

The Gulf News In Depth report is here.

They also have a story featuring Brig. Mohammed Saif Al Zafein, a gentleman for whom I have growing respect. He's talking about the terrible carnage with pedestrians that we have.

"The only thing that we are unable to control currently is run-over
accidents because there is another authority involved in the process,"
Brigadier Al Zafein said.

No prizes for guessing which 'other authority' the Director of Dubai
Police's Traffic department is referring to in this report.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

RTA - the toll, speed limits, stuff-ups.

My least favourite organisation, the appallingly incompetent Roads & Traffic Authority (RTA) is in the news again.

Just scroll down to my last couple of posts on the Sheikh Zayed Road toll and on minimum speed limits. (Samuraisam has made some interesting comments on the toll by the way).

Now today there's news in Emirates Today, my least favourite newspaper, that after the Director of Dubai Police's Traffic Department pointed out that it was a 'grave mistake', the RTA is reconsidering its earlier decision to set the minimum speed on highways at 60kph.

As we've come to expect from the RTA, that was another decision made without thinking it through. Knee-jerk instant and inapropropriate decisions are being made, which have to be changed later.

The management of the toll, as I've been saying, is another one.

Now they've added to their mistakes by appointing Emarat to handle the card sales and by the compressed time frame. The report in Gulf News says:

"According to the agreement, the RTA will provide the Salik cards and the application forms to Emarat. The RTA will train some of Emarat's employees on Salik's system and provide them with the required technical support in order to cope with any technical defects in the users' service system."

So we're going to have 'some' petrol station employees trained on the system and able to 'cope with any technical defects'.

Yeah, right.

According to the RTA's website, there were 740,000 vehicles registered in Dubai in 2006. A lot of them are going to need Salik stickers. The kits go on sale on June 15 and the toll starts on July 1. Can you imagine the chaos in those two weeks!

But then chaos is the name of the game whenever the RTA is involved.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

RTA gets it wrong yet again.

It was almost inevitable. A decision to be made by the Roads & Transport Authority and they made the wrong one.

In an endless saga of breathtakingly inept management they've got the new toll system competely wrong.

And it isn't only me saying it.

There are two issues with the toll. One is whether a toll will improve traffic flow, whether it's simply another of our taxes-by-another-name and what percentage it will add to inflation. That it will add something to inflation is not at issue, the argument is how many percent.

But it seems that the toll will go ahead regardless - unless Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid vetoes it - so the real issue now is implementation and management.

They've named it Salik, meaning open or clear in Arabic, but it's far from clear what their rationale is. As usual with the RTA it's all vague, wooly thinking.

Oh, and as usual they're leaving it all to the last minute. We're a mere 60 days from start-up and they're still talking to industry bodies, still gathering information, still 'making final decisions', still not sure of the details.

Payment model

They have hundreds of toll systems around the world to research and evaluate in terms of Dubai's needs. You'd have to assume they did that.

They had many different payment models to choose from - and as we've come to expect from the RTA they chose the wrong one.

Hire car companies, fleet operators, car dealers are all saying the same thing, as will all we drivers - the payment model is wrong.

Motorists will buy a stick-on tag which is to be fixed to the car's windscreen, behind the rear-view mirror is being recommended. Salik starter kits at Dh100 will be on sale for the toll which is due to begin on July 1. Dh50 is for 'an initial cost for the account' (sounds like a tax to me) and Dh50 is credit against toll trips. Overhead devices will automatically deduct Dh4 per pass-through.

The problem with the system they've chosen is that the tag belongs to the vehicle, not the person. Their website says "With no battery or moving parts, it should last the life of your windshield...Your Salik tag must be affixed to your windshield to operate properly and cannot be removed without damaging the tag. You should have a Salik tag for each of your vehicles."

So if you have to change your windshield - buy another tag.Own two cars - you have to buy two tags. Sell your car - the tag goes with it. (Think about that for car hire fleets selling hundreds of cars a year). All you can do is deactivate the tag.

It goes without saying that the tag should belong to the person, not the vehicle. As they have in Singapore we should have a little plastic holder that's fixed to the windshield, the payment card slots into it, the overhead device reads the card. Use your second car, you put the card into its holder. Sell the car, you still have your card. Replace the windshield, you still have your card.

Improved traffic flow?

Then there's the toll road itself. It's actually only a small section of Sheikh Zayed Road, the most congested section to be fair. There will be two overhead devices, one at Garhoud Bridge the other by Mall of the Emirates at Interchange 4.

Only if the vehicle passes under the reader will a toll be charged. Join the same section of road a little further down and there's no charge. It's not hard to visualise vehicles blasting in from Jebel Ali, off at interchange 4.5 (or whatever it's going to be called) or onto a service road, skip round the overhead gantry and back onto SZR the other side. That hardly eases traffic flow does it!

Join the toll section of SZR anywhere but under one of the two overhead readers and it's free.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid has already warned the RTA about their performance, as I posted here. They've made and continue to make such a mess of what they're doing that it's long overdue for a large clean-out of management and designers who urgently need to be replaced by competent people with the ability to actually do the job properly.

I originally posted about the stupidity of the toll system they've come up with all the way back in November, here.