Curbing urban hazards
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Curbing urban hazards

BMA partners with philanthropists in the old town area

Helping hand: Kelly Larson, director of Bloomberg Philanthropies, delivers her opening speech at the Partnership for Healthy Cities Summit in Cape Town, South Africa, which drew some 200 participants from 52 cities in 40 countries.
Helping hand: Kelly Larson, director of Bloomberg Philanthropies, delivers her opening speech at the Partnership for Healthy Cities Summit in Cape Town, South Africa, which drew some 200 participants from 52 cities in 40 countries.

Cape Town: The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the Thailand Walking and Cycling Institute Foundation (TWCIF) are promoting walking and cycling as an alternative to using cars on six roads in the Bamrung Muang area of Phra Nakhon district.

The roads are Din So, Mahannop, Bamrung Muang, Ratchabophit, Samran Rat and Tanao in Bangkok's old town known as Ratanakosin island.

Details of the local project to promote these "active mobility" activities, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has invested in 700 cities and 150 countries around the world, were aired at an international conference this month.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Partnership for Healthy Cities Summit in Cape Town, South Africa, which drew some 200 participants from 52 cities in 40 countries, Silpa Wairatpanij, committee member of the TWCIF, said the project has been carried out since early last year.

The aim is to reduce sedentary behaviour, making healthy changes to people's lifestyles.

"We initiated the project to help reduce the major risk factors for non-communicable diseases [NCDs] especially physical inactivity as we know that NCDs are responsible for most deaths in Thailand,'' he said.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), the four main NCDs -- cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) -- are responsible for 74% of all deaths in Thailand, with about 400,000 lives lost a year. About half are premature, striking people aged under 70.

Mr Silpa said residents, in a survey, had told the foundation and the BMA to develop the roads in the Bamrung Muang area by creating a walking lane and painting road markings as a pilot project, because the survey found that around 30% of residents had an average daily travel of no more than one kilometre.

Furthermore, the survey also found that most respondents did not walk to work or anywhere in the area because there is no pedestrian walkway. They want walkways in their area. They said if they walk, they must only walk in safe areas, he said.

Silpakorn University's Urban Ally Centre, located in Phra Nakhon district, was invited to work in partnership with the BMA and the foundation to help design a pedestrian walkway on these six roads by improving overall safety and using lane width reduction, he said.

"We are closely working with residents and the state sector. We talked to them, encouraging them to walk and cycle as a means of transport in their daily life.

"Most people supported us well even though some shopowners along these roads were dissatisfied because they do not have parking spaces in front of their shops for customers any more,'' Mr Silpa said.

One year has now passed since the start of the project. Some 48% of residents are now using pedestrian walkways while more than 80% are cycling. Motorists have also reduced their speed on the roads.

"We found that most motorists who regularly travelled at 40 km/h would reduce their speed to 20 km/h on these roads. This means our project has also make them realise that pedestrians are vulnerable to accidents if they are driving too fast,'' he said.

Silpa: Curbing health risks

First mile, last mile

Sanon Wangsrangboon, deputy governor of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, said the BMA would like to launch a similar project in four more areas around urban train stations: Tha Phra, Sam Yot, Phromphong and Lat Phrao 71.

It was studying the details and building cooperation networks with various sectors.

He said the BMA chose these four areas because they have four electric train stations which serve commuters every day.

He said walkways and bicycle paths will be built to connect to the stations so as to help reduce car use. If these spots also have water access, the BMA will also build walkways and bicycles lanes to connect with the piers.

Mr Sanon said many Bangkokians are concerned in transport terms about how to leave their home and how to reach their destination (the so-called first and last mile).

They do not use public transport because many streets and sois in Bangkok are without sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road and risk their own safety. As a result, they opt for personal vehicles instead.

City Hall plans to paint road markings from communities to public transport routes and increase walking and cycling safety. Bloomberg Philanthropies will be asked to help providing funding, he said.

Sanon: Project to expand

International plaudits

Ariella Rojhani, director of the Partnership for Healthy Cities at Vital Strategies, said Thailand is at the forefront of efforts to prevent NCDs diseases.

As for road safety investment, Ms Rojhani said her organisation, WHO and Bloomberg Philanthropies have worked with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to reduce speeding and make sidewalks and streets safer.

The city has taken ownership of the initial investment, allocating its own resources to the work.

Kelly Larson, director of Bloomberg Philanthropies, said her organisation has supported road safety since 2007 and Bangkok was part of the organisation's initiatives covering public health perspectives to road safety.

The organisation has provided resources, technical guidance and support on road safety interventions, she said. "We have been impressed with Thailand as the leader in Southeast Asia, not just in road safety but also public health issues,'' Ms Larson said.

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