Our city must walk to being world class

Our city must walk to being world class

A civic group has come up with an ambitious plan — to make Bangkok pavements walkable.

People who have experienced walking on Bangkok pavements will surely agree with my use of the term "ambitious".

I learned about this plan, put forward by the Urban Design and Development Centre (UDDC), a new agency under Chulalongkorn University's architecture faculty, at a recent workshop. The plan is supported by the Health Foundation.

We began the workshop by discussing why city dwellers dislike walking. Each participant wasted no time in identifying the numerous problems with our footpaths. 

Admit it. Bangkok sees itself as a world class tourist city, but unlike Paris or London, we do not have landmark walking streets.

Our footpaths are notorious for their potholes, dilapidated and unused phone booths, and poorly planned pedestrian bridges. Not to mention selfish vendors who leave no space for pedestrians and some bullying motorcycle taxis. Foreign tourists who love walking find they face an additional dilemma: extortion by police, while the presence of soldiers in the Khao San Road area does little to promote tourism.

Besides, it's too hot to walk without shade from trees; better street lighting would be helpful at night, and car engine fumes that shroud roads and footpaths discourage people from being pedestrians.

And I don't mind street vendors and motorcycle taxis. Vendors provide food for low-income workers while motorcycle taxis can offer fast services to commuters. We just need to regulate them to ensure peaceful coexistence.

The workshop participants pointed out the problems. But when it came to solutions, we realised this is a case of "easier said than done".

Apart from improving the physical condition of pavements — a job that needs to be done urgently — supportive factors like more efficient public transportation are no less important.

Of course, pedestrians depend on public transport. To encourage people to walk, make road crossings safer, make bus services more comfortable and pleasant. Again, this means more than just the buses themselves. Apart from clean and safe buses, we expect good manners on the part of drivers, clear route information and good bus networks. 

Currently, only our rail transport system can boast comfort. But the service is too expensive for low-income people and lacks connectivity. However, this could be improved when the network is made more complete.

Perhaps the city must think more seriously of cycling. But this is another tough task.

If we cannot achieve these improvements, those who can afford it will continue to consider driving as their only option and we cannot blame them entirely. 

On that day, I was in the same group as a city official from the town planning department. I believe she must have been angry with herself, representing the organisation at such a workshop and hearing such criticism of her agency. 

I asked her if City Hall has a policy regarding our footpaths? She was simply lost for words. Poor woman. 

In fact, we didn't need her to confirm that. Our experience on city footpaths indicates that the city, in particular the city governor, has no policy on this whatsoever. No matter which political party the governor comes from.

At the end of the workshop, each group was asked to put forward a model for a walking street.

Most agreed that the Siam Square-Ratchaprasong area could be a pilot project since the spot is accessible by rail and and there are quite a few department stores to attract people.

But, to me, that idea primarily accommodates tourists and shoppers.

Besides, the last time I walked on a Siam Square pavement, I had trouble with the vendors. Time limits (they can sell after 7pm) do not really work. In practice, the vendors put up their stalls before the permitted time and the walkway space is too tight; I could hardly get past when those in front of me stopped to browse. 

Some may defend City Hall, since it is about to reintroduce walking streets, starting at Silom this week. But officials should look at why similar projects have flopped and avoid that. And I think City Hall might be confused between walking streets and shopping streets.

We have a basic right to demand walkable pavements. If the Bangkok governor can't rise to the challenge, we really need to remind him.

Ploenpote Atthakor is Deputy Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Former editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Do you like the content of this article?

Polking expects better show from Thailand against UAE

Thailand coach Mano Polking is hoping the War Elephants will avoid the mistakes they committed against Syria when they take on the United Arab Emirates in their second Fifa Day friendly tonight.


PPRP vows to bring down LPG prices

The Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) has pledged to lower the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to 250 baht per tank if it can form a government after the next election.


TAT raises expectations for Chinese visitors this year

The target for inbound Chinese tourists this year has been upgraded to 6-7 million from 5 million, with more than 250,000 of them scheduled to visit Thailand in April.