I’m sick of not walking. I’m sick of having to loop around torn-up pavements, jump over highway dividers and traipse through sand if I want to use my legs instead of a car for transportation. And, while all these things make me stomp my under-used feet in a fit of frustration, what irks me even more than the constant pedestrian obstacles is the view, held by many, that walking is just not possible here. It may be hard, but it’s feasible, and I’m constantly shocked by the low threshold the city’s populace has developed to even the most minor trips on foot.
Case in point: while in The Dubai Mall, I asked an attendant how to get to the Palace Hotel. Both, I know, are in Downtown Burj Dubai, and are therefore barely any distance from the shopping centre.
‘You can’t walk there,’ she told me. ‘Take a taxi.’ But you can walk there. At most, it would take 10 minutes to make the trip by foot, whereas it would take at least half an hour to get to the front of the taxi queue. And I can only imagine the driver’s frustration, after 30 minutes of waiting himself, were I to ask him to drop me off just around the corner. So, I ignored her, and walked it. And I’m not proud, because it wasn’t a triumph, it was a stroll.
To really take a stand against the city’s pro-auto design, give walking a try (albeit carefully). Start by strolling to something that’s within sight (that’s usually a sign it’s not really that far away). Bridges have footpaths, dividers can be traversed. Next time you find you’ve wasted half an hour searching out a cab or stuck in traffic, ponder how long it would have taken you to get there just using your own two feet – especially now that temperatures are at sensible levels.
For those that rely on taxis to take them five blocks, I assure you, you’re missing out. The best discoveries I have ever made in this city, I have made while walking. It was on foot that I discovered a cute little boutique that specialised in local honey. It was by ambling about that I found what I consider to be the city’s best Filipino restaurant. It was without a car that a colleague discovered Indo-Pak wrestling near the fish market. Believe it or not, there’s much more to this city than overpriced hotel food. There is actually a wealth of hidden charms that are affordable, accessible, and available to those willing to put the physical effort in to find them.