A ray of hope for Bangkok's foot soldiers
It was recently reported that the authorities plan to make life safer for Bangkok's pedestrians by introducing traffic light buttons at 14 zebra crossings. Fair enough. But the worrying thing is that it was presented as some kind of major breakthrough, a ''eureka moment'' for pedestrian safety. Cities around the world have been using this system since the 1960s. Still, it's a start.
Nobody really needs reminding of the absurd situation we have in which pedestrian crossings in Bangkok are among the most dangerous places to attempt crossing the road. Some are little more than pedestrian traps, luring citizens into a false sense of security, sometimes with unfortunate results. Tourists are particularly vulnerable as they are under the mistaken impression that vehicles will actually stop at pedestrian crossings. Welcome to Thailand.
Only last week one farang got so frustrated at vehicles not stopping he staged a sit-down protest on a crossing. I hasten to add, this is not recommended.
In attempting to cross the road, you invariably find yourself taking a few steps forwards and a few steps back, repeated several times, in what has become known as the "Bangkok cha-cha". Even at the highest profile crossings in the city centre, the sequence of the lights seem cleverly designed to discourage ambulatory persons. At the best of times, the break in traffic is just long enough to allow a courageous dash, which can be something of a struggle for those who are not fleet of foot or on the wrinkly side.
Official reassurances that if you get wiped out on a pedestrian crossing it is the motorist's fault, are not particularly comforting.
I had a first-hand reminder of the vulnerability of pedestrians recently while sitting in a taxi rattling along Onnut. We had to brake sharply because there was a female stranded in the middle of the road and if we didn't stop we were going to hit her. She looked terrified, and not without reason, as the traffic hurtled past on both sides.
The driver made a few comments about what a stupid place it was for her to cross the road. I initially agreed, but after taking a closer look had a change of opinion. The woman was in fact standing on a faded pedestrian crossing and had every right to cross. I mentioned this to the driver, but his response was a few choice words for her as we drove past.
When I took my wife to England for the first time many years ago we spent the first few days in London and it involved a fair bit of walking. But something seemed a bit odd -- motorists were actually stopping at pedestrian crossings, even on quiet side-streets. The wife was both impressed and puzzled and it took a while for her to adapt to this strange phenomenon -- an understandable reaction having regularly experienced the terror of Bangkok's crossings.
One thing that soon became apparent in London, however, was that you were never far away from the sounds of sirens as police cars whizzed through the city chasing assorted scoundrels. Of course we get sirens in Bangkok, but alas they are primarily from ambulances, some of whose customers regrettably made the mistake of trying to cross the road at the aforementioned crossings.
Conditions have admittedly improved for pedestrians in recent years, especially the walkways at major intersections and shopping areas which provide some very welcome relief from all the madness below. But you still get the feeling that the authorities regard pedestrians as something of an irritation, if not a pest. People of an ambulatory disposition are definitely an endangered species (Pedestrus expirus).
But it used to be worse. In the early 1990s there was even an attempt to get rid of pavements in certain areas "to ease traffic congestion". In their infinite wisdom, the urban planners decided it was the pedestrians who were to blame for Bangkok's jams. The strange people who insisted on walking were depriving long-suffering motorists of precious space. The moves to take over the pavements also greatly offended people for whom they were really built -- motorcyclists and vendors. They could never understand why wretched pedestrians were allowed on the footpaths in the first place.
Best news of the week concerns teenage krathong seller Orn, who had bumper sales in Korat last Monday. People were queueing up to buy her floats thanks to the widespread media reports of her plight after being snared in a really sneaky shakedown by "copyright agents", which had absolutely no legal validity. The police chief has since confirmed she didn't break any copyright law at all. She gave half of the money she earned to her parents.
It's a rare feel-good story. What would make it feel even better is if they actually arrested the culprits involved in this sorry case of entrapment. But don't hold your breath.
First and last
Heard my first festive season song at the local supermarket on Friday, courtesy of Wham and Last Christmas. It's George Michael really, as he sang it, wrote it and played every instrument on the track back in 1984, a scary 35-years ago. It's actually one of the better Christmas songs. Please treat this as an early warning of the upcoming Jinger Ben season.
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Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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