Rewind 50 years: When Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road had more camels than cars

Spotting super cars zooming on the Sheikh Zayed Road is an everyday affair. But this was not the case several decades ago, when the entire stretch leading to Abu Dhabi was just a single-lane dirt road.

"Camels ruled the desert and they could frequently be seen crossing the Sheikh Zayed Road," long-time UAE resident Om Prakash Malik, 82, recalled. "Cars were few and the travel time between Dubai and Abu Dhabi would take a little over two hours - as compared to a little over one hour now - because you could not drive fast and you had to always watch out for camels passing by," the Indian expat, who came to the UAE in 1978 to work as a marine engineer, told Khaleej Times.

"It was a barren environment in the 1970s and 1980s. There were no roads to connect the surrounding emirates and the only way to get around were by 4x4s," he added. "Traffic congestion was not heard of back in the day.

The road was not paved and those little pieces of steel coming from construction sites - especially in Jebel Ali area - would often cause tyre punctures."

A single lane tarmac replaced the desert track and eventually the Dubai-Abu Dhabi Highway, which was approved by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum in 1971, was completed in 1980. The motorway then became part of E11, which is currently the longest road in the UAE that stretches from Abu Dhabi to Ras Al Khaimah.

Up until 1990 though, some photos of the road could be seen as a little more than a single road winding along a desert. But it has now been turned into one of the most modern stretches of roads in the world.

This highway and its famed skyscrapers perhaps best define the growth of the UAE's infrastructure in under 48 years.

According to long-time UAE residents, things rapidly changed in the 1990s and early 2000s. Dubai in particular has undergone a remarkable transformation in a very short span of time.

As early as 1997, the initial idea of the Dubai Metro was introduced to meet the increasing traffic demands. The plan for the Metro was set in motion on May 29, 2005, and it was exactly at the 9th second of the 9th minute at 9pm on September 9, 2009, when His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, tapped the first Dubai Metro card to officially start the operations of the region's first and world's longest driverless metro rail transport system.

Fast forward to present time, the Metro, which serves around 600,000 riders daily, has become the main showpiece of Dubai's ambitious plan to revamp mass transit systems and raise the share of public transport in the people's mobility to as much as 30 per cent by 2030.

Talks about autonomous vehicles are no longer shop talk as driverless cars and flying taxis are being tested in Dubai.

And another futuristic mega-infrastructure project that can change the UAE landscape is Hyperloop, a vacuum-tube transport system than can propel passengers and carry cargos at speeds of more than 1,000kmph.

This means travel time from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in the future can be reduced to a mere 12 minutes - a fraction of the travel period five decades ago.

Fast-forward 50 years: Wishlist

Emirati youths Noura Saeed Al Mahmoud and Hessa Al Zarooni have a very similar wishlist when it comes to infrastructure of the future

>100% environment-friendly and sustainable buildings

>People will hop from one emirate to the other via Hyperloop

>Road congestion will be resolved as the air space will be used for flying taxis

>Vertical gardens will bloom across the country

>Fewer people will own cars and they will travel via autonomous vehicles

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