A concrete jungle where cars remain king

A concrete jungle where cars remain king

Pedestrians walk on a zebra crossing on Asok Road. Police, starting on Monday, will not allow pedestrians to use the crossing between 6-9 am on weekdays. Somchai Poomlard
Pedestrians walk on a zebra crossing on Asok Road. Police, starting on Monday, will not allow pedestrians to use the crossing between 6-9 am on weekdays. Somchai Poomlard

Pedestrians who use Asok Montri Road in the Sukhumvit area will have to brace for more inconvenience, starting next week, with police set to close one major pedestrian crossing during morning rush hours they blame for congestion.

From Monday onward, those who used to cross the road in front of Ratnin Eye Hospital will have to walk some 400 metres further to another crossing near Sri Nakharinwirote University.

The closing of the pedestrian crossing, which will be applied during the weekday 6-9am rush hour period, is the brainchild of Thong Lor police in their quest for improved traffic flow along Asok Road, one of the most congested in all of Bangkok. Due to the heavy congestion, some motorists mock the road's name, as asok in Thai means "not being sad".

For the same reason, they also plan to remove a bus stop which will also unavoidably add hardship for city commuters. Police blame buses for blocking the road and worsening congestion.

Thong Lor police, already bombarded with criticism, have said the closing of the crossing is part of a pilot scheme. But anger has built up.

The new project is based on the same old idea -- solving traffic at the expense of non-motorist commuters, while pampering drivers even though they are the real villains on the roads, the ones who really deserve to be blamed for traffic congestion.

In launching the new project, Thong Lor police appear to be going against an old initiative which back in 2014 established the so-called "Asok Montri model" to encourage the use of zebra crossings and drivers to respect them. In this project, they slapped a fine on both sides if they violated the law.

Yet, persuading drivers to stop their vehicles at crossings remains a challenge, if not a failure, not just on Asok Road but in other areas too. In Asok, there have been reports of pedestrians being hit, some fatally, by reckless drivers while using the zebra crossing.

Such recklessness may be connected with the wrong impression that many drivers have that they are the priority when behind the wheel. This kind of impression must have something to do with the way the authorities love to pamper them -- such as by scrapping a crossing.

Such closures, even though temporarily at rush hours, will only reinforce this attitude. It sends the wrong message to motorists; that they can drive with impunity, while commuters on foot are but second-class citizens who must make do with an inefficient bus service.

In case police and city administrators are not already aware, the Asok project goes against measures taken by advanced countries to tackle traffic and improve life quality: reduce the car population through taxation and incentivising motorists to abandon their cars and use public transportation. Making cycling convenient and safe is one sure-fire measure.

They should be aware that this new project contradicts city administrators' plans to make Bangkok walkable. If they are true to the idea of making the Big Mango a liveable city, priority must be given to non-motorist commuters, not the other way around.

In fact, the Asok area -- with its comprehensive electric rail network, ie the MRT and Skytrain -- is an ideal spot for city planners or traffic police to implement harsh measures, like London's congestion zone, to force drivers to leave their vehicles at home or at park and ride facilities and embrace public transport. And they may do so as a pilot project.

But it's obvious that such an idea never even crossed the mind of authorities who have a strong love affair with road construction and extension -- activities that secure billions of baht for their agencies. This is why they have kept intact, instead of dropping, a plan to construct an overpass in the Asok area, despite opposition by local residents who are concerned that traffic will increase once the project is completed. The city administrators have merely suspended construction of the overpass to avoid pressure.

It's unfortunate that police and city administrators refuse to realise that easing the city's problems with congestion requires fewer cars, not fewer pedestrians.

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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