Up above the milling crowd

Up above the milling crowd

Elevated footpaths will ease the woes of pedestrians, and especially people in wheelchairs

In a city where the roads are uneven and the footpaths dominated by vendors, life in a wheelchair can be pretty tough. Many disabled feel they’re being told to either stay home or only get about in a private car.

Bangkok Skyline, the city’s first extended skywalk, stretches from the BTS rail route to key shopping malls in the Sukhumvit-central area. Easier access for those in wheelchairs is critical to the plans.

About 12 years ago, mobility became ever so much easier for people like Chaiwat Thamkrongart when the skywalk linking Ploenchit BTS station and office buildings and shopping complexes opened.

“It was more convenient not having to use the footpath on the ground where street vendors have taken over,” said Mr Chaiwat, 50. He travels by BTS from his house in Samut Prakan to Ratchaprasong every other week and can easily access buildings from the station through the second floor.

Later this year, commuting for those in a wheelchair will get even more convenient when a 42-million-baht elevated walkway project, named “Bangkok Skyline”, is launched. It will connect the BTS rail and Platinum Fashion Mall to Big C Supercenter and Gaysorn Plaza in the Ratchaprasong area. The planned skywalk is six metres wide and 500 metres long.

The first phase of the project will start from the back of Platinum Fashion Mall at the Saen Saeb canal to the footpath in front of CentralWorld shopping centre. The elevated walkway will then cross Ratchadamri Road to Big C Supercenter.

The second phase will start in the middle of 2016 and link Big C Supercenter to Gaysorn Plaza. It is expected to be finished in early 2017.

Chai Srivikorn, president of Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association (RSTA), said the Bangkok Skyline will be built to connect to the Ratchaprasong Skywalk, the 900-metre elevated walkway from Chidlom BTS station to Chalerm Phao intersection, which was launched 12 years ago.

Bangkok Skyline will be the city’s first extended skywalk stretching from the
BTS rail route. It will support the connection to other transport services such as buses, taxis and boats in the Saen Saeb canal, he said.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) spoke to Ratchaprasong business operators on the construction of the elevated footpath and how it could benefit pedestrians and the handicapped, as well as the elderly and children as they make their way from the BTS stations to the shopping malls, hotels and commercial buildings in the area without having to descend to the ground, he said.

The street-level footpaths are difficult to use as they are uneven and cluttered with vendors, he said.

A deal was reached that business operators would fund the 150-million-baht construction of the skywalk section from Chidlom station to Ratchaprasong intersection. The construction started in 2002.

The section facilitates links between Maneeya Centre building, Amarin Plaza, Erawan Bangkok Shopping Mall and Gaysorn Plaza, where the entrances are sloped to aid those in wheelchairs.

After CentralWorld shopping centre became a member of the RSTA in 2005, the extended skywalk was built from Ratchaprasong intersection to Siam BTS station at Chalerm Phao intersection, stretching 600 metres.

The construction of the 250-million-baht extension was completed in 2006, which makes the Ratchaprasong skywalk the longest elevated walkway in Bangkok.

Apart from the convenience offered to people to gain access to the buildings in the area, the skywalk offers pedestrian safety with CCTV cameras and lighting, Mr Chai said.

The skywalk complies with the Universal Architect Design employed by other major cities. The design is made to equally serve all people.

For example, every hotel in Tokyo has buttons for the handicapped in lifts, while footpaths are designed to take into account the needs of the disabled, he said.

Mr Chai conceded he was initially worried about the worth of the skywalk, but later decided to go ahead with it as many cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and London have similar walkways in place which benefit the public.

According to the RSTA chief, about 30,000 people use the Ratchaprasong
Skywalk every day, while Chidlom and Siam BTS stations handle 60,000 and 100,000 passengers respectively each day, he said.

Ratchaprasong is a major tourist hub in Bangkok with up to 7 billion baht in revenue being generated per month, he said.

The area, he said, is estimated to have 400,000 people pass by each day, while more than 3,900 rooms in 11 hotels are available.

In February 2011, Bangkok governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra announced the “Super Skywalk System” project, covering 50km of elevated walkways across the capital as part of the BMA’s “Bangkok Progress” campaign.

The project was intended to cover multiple locations including Ratchadamri, Silom, Sathon, Ramkhamhaeng, Wong Wian Yai, Ekamai and Phahon Yothin. The two phases of the construction would cost 15.2 billion baht in total.

The project, however, hit a snag after its opponents said it was too costly.

They raised doubt about the whether the project was worth it and a possible surge of vendors on the skywalks.

They also said state funds alone
should not be used to fund the skywalks as commercial interests would gain huge benefits.

The project was eventually shot down.

Mr Chai stressed he fully supported the skywalk system, saying private firms could help to fund the investment.

Authorities could also take a similar approach as other countries which have instituted laws to collect additional taxes from business operators in line with the area of their land, Mr Chai said, adding that the tax money could be used to fund projects that combat other city problems.

“We do not have a city plan which can improve the city as a beautiful, clean and safe place,” Mr Chai said. “Bangkok is rife with street vendors, who should be contained in specific places.

“The skywalk project should press ahead because the footpath-related problems are too difficult to be solved.”

According to the RSTA chief, the Ratchaprasong Skywalk can be used as a role model for other business districts as the participation of business operators
should help tackle the problem much more easily.

Surapong Laoha-anya, chief operating officer of Bangkok Mass Transit System Plc (BTSC), voiced support for the skywalk, saying it would be convenient for commuters.

Many pavements are not in good condition, while street vendors and motorcycle taxi queues are also in the way, he said.

He brushed aside the idea that the skywalk would encourage BTS customers to opt for walking instead.

“Given the distance between the stations, such as Chidlom and Siam BTS stations, I do not think passengers will decide to walk instead of using the skytrain,” Mr Surapong said. “The number [of passengers] may decline only minimally.”

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