Dubai's first traffic lights: Longtime expats recall city's humble beginnings

New road technology sparked excitement when it was first installed in the seventies, remembers resident

By Leslie Wilson Jr & Thanweeruddin Mohammad

Published: Sat 3 Sep 2022, 12:20 PM

Last updated: Sat 3 Sep 2022, 10:35 PM

Way before Financial Centre and Business Bay, Dubai's centre of commerce was a little sandy road in Bur Dubai that developed as an offshoot of the neighbouring Creek Souk.

Named Al Fahidi Street after the area of the same name, it was the city's go-to place for anyone in search of electronics, hi-fi systems, watches, air conditioners, household items, clothing and stationery.

In those days, street lights were far and few between, and the roads had neither footpaths nor traffic lights.

That was until the late seventies when Dubai got its first red, green and yellow lights at a junction where 34th Street met Fahidi Street close to the area which now houses the Dubai Museum.

Hemchand Karani, who owned a convenience store called Kings, remembers the buzz that the traffic lights created.

Although they would be switched off at night, they played a big role in controlling the vehicles whose numbers were starting to increase at the time.

Kings store was the only one of its kind in the area and enjoyed a reasonably large clientele as it stocked a wide range of items, including a stack of pens near the cash counter that Karani attended to before handing it to his sons.

Bharat Karani, who now runs Pens Corner at the Khaleej Centre, which his father opened after Kings wound up operations in the nineties, also remembers the iconic traffic lights.

"I was perhaps just ten years old, but I clearly remember the time when the traffic lights came up outside our store," he recalls. "It brought a bit of order to the place, and pedestrians were able to cross the new tarred road safely.

"The traffic lights would be shut off at night and begin working again at 6am in the morning. They were manually operated, but a necessity as more and more cars and temps were seen moving about the then two-way street.

"Things were totally different those days. Dubai was also a bit laid back. I remember that Kings would be shut all day on Friday's but open for business in the evenings," adds Bharat.


"But we had a problem with our staff, who would not come to work until the afternoon's Hindi movie ended on television."

"Those were simple days. Who would have imagined that Dubai would have grown dramatically into one of the world's most modern and bustling cities. And every time I drive down Al Fahidi Street through the historic traffic lights, it takes me back in time to the good old days."

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