Monday, April 18, 2011

More Driving Observations

I realized as I was driving Brian into work today that I forgot a couple of driving observations, so here goes.

Speed limits are posted pretty much like they are in the states except the signs are round and printed in both English and Arabic. Many of the larger roads also have a limit for cars that is higher than the limit for trucks. What's different is the "limit" versus the "maximum speed". I told you about the cameras in my last post, and each camera is set to go off at a certain speed ... a limit that is publicized and common knowledge. For instance, on one of the roads Brian takes to work, the posted limit for cars is 100kph, but everyone knows (because it's been in the papers, the radio and probably in the driving handbook you're issued with your license) that the cameras go off when you are over 120kph. And 120 is the hard and fast rule - at 121, you get a ticket. The highway limit on the main road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is posted at 120kph for cars, but the camera limit was known as 160. However, due to a huge 27 car pileup a few weeks ago on that road, the gov't decided to modify the camera limits to 140kph. This has been all over the radio and papers for the last week and a half, so everyone knows not only what the change is, but exactly when it will go into effect. In fact, on that road they now have billboards announcing the new maximum speed (140kph). The challenge for visitors, though, is that the posted signs say 120 and the billboards say 140! :)

Turn lanes are another big thing to get used to here. First, try to picture what most of the roads look like. In each direction, there are 4-5 lanes of traffic and each side is separated by a very wide median with lovely plants, trees, landscaping and sometimes a fence. If you're heading West and your destination is on the East-bound side of the street, you need to do a U-Turn because there are very few cutovers to get to the other side. So, at the stoplight, the far most left lane is for left turns and U-Turns (this is the ONLY lane you can use for U-Turns). The next 2 left lanes are for left turns. The first of these is clearly marked as a left turn only lane, but the 3rd lane from the left is marked as straight, but everyone knows you can use this lane to turn left as well. In fact, often the majority of drivers in that 3rd lane are turning left. Because that 3rd lane wasn't technically designed to be a left turn lane, these cars often have to merge over into the 2nd lane as they make the turn. Life lesson? Try to be in the first or third lane to avoid being merged into on either side!

Round abouts are another common road element and we've gotten used to them quickly. They are a bit scary at first, but once you've navigated a few, they start to make sense and really work quite well. As a pedestrian, however, I stay well clear of round abouts as I can't at all figure out how or when to cross them.

Finally, there are the street signs. Abu Dhabi has an intricate grid pattern to it that was designed by some engineers way back when and intended to make it simple to locate buildings. The problem is that it's complicated and no one uses it. The system is set up a little like this. First there are the odd numbered main streets that run parallel to the Corniche and run the length of the island. The road along the Corniche is 1st street (also known as Corniche Road East or West), then each next road running parallel is the next odd number, so the next road is 3rd (aka Khalifa St) - oh, but this one doesn't run all the way across, just through a small section, so the next street from 1st could be 5th depending on where you're coming from. ;) 5th Street also doesn't run all the way across, so it's possible to go from 1st street to 7th street actually. 5th is also know as Al Nasr (by the map, I've never heard it called this) or Hamdan street, which seems to be the preferred name. Next is 7th street (aka Sheikh Zayed the First street - yeah, that's not confusing at all! or I've also heard it referred to as Elecktra Street, I think because of all the electronics stores on it). So you get the picture on the odd numbered streets.

Then comes the even numbered streets, which all build out from 2nd street (Airport Road or Old Airport Road) which is the main artery in and out of the city. If you go East from 2nd, the numbers run even starting with 4th (Muroor), 6th (Bani Yas or Najda) and 8th (Al Salam or Eastern Ring Road). If you go the other direction, they run even starting with 24th (Al Karamah) and no, I have no idea why they jumped from 2 to 24. Then 26th (Al Nahyan or King Khalid bin Abdel Aziz), then 28th (Khalifa bin Shakhbout), 30th (Al Khaleej Al Arabi) - again, you get the idea. Sometimes the taxi drivers know the numbers and sometimes the names ... so I carry a map EVERYWHERE!

But that's not all, those are just the main streets that make up the main grid of the street system. In between each of these blocks are a whole host of smaller streets with tons of shops and restaurants. That wouldn't be so bad except that these streets also use a numbering system that has some logic within that specific block, but is truly confusing if you're trying to give any directions. To make a long post a little shorter, let's just say that there are a number of 6th streets in Abu Dhabi, so you'd have to put a lot more context around it if you want to give that as a direction! :)

Oh, and I think I've mentioned that the area where we live is still too new to have any street signs at all, so there are none whatsoever. We use a series of different landmarks to get people to our house.

Okay, enough about the roads and driving, but let me leave you with one last thing, which is a road sign we see as we drive into Dubai on the main highway. It's an official road sign put up by the gov't and says ...

Be aware of road surprises

:) It's my favorite sign so far.

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