Reclaiming the streets

Reclaiming the streets

Plan to turn city roads into walking venues to give local economy a boost

mega feast: A grilled squid vendor in Yaowarat area lines up squid all of sizes on the grill. Yaowarat Road will make its debut as a walking street today from 7pm to midnight.
mega feast: A grilled squid vendor in Yaowarat area lines up squid all of sizes on the grill. Yaowarat Road will make its debut as a walking street today from 7pm to midnight.

Walking streets are not only fun and exciting places to be, they also hold out the promise of economic rewards under the Prayut Chan-o-cha government's plan to boost growth amid worries about the global economy.

The local economy in three commercial areas of Bangkok is set for a major boost thanks to a new walking street project that makes its debut this weekend.

Silom and Yaowarat roads will be turned into pedestrian-only zones today while Khao San's turn is tomorrow.

Under a plan supervised by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), Silom Road will be a walking street between noon and 10pm on the third Sunday of each month, starting today and running until May next year, when it will be reviewed by authorities.

Yaowarat Road, which was partially closed on Friday and Saturday, will be fully closed to vehicles today from 7pm and midnight. Khao San Road will become a walking street on Mondays from 5pm to midnight, starting tomorrow.

According to Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, the walking street project is the initiative of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who instructed the BMA and other provinces to hold events that will echo the spirit of community and generate income for locals.

The scheme is designed to be implemented in the so-called "pracharat" fashion which is a collaboration of state, private, social sectors and education institutions, he said.

Gen Prayut is expected to be at Silom today at about 6pm and then move on to Yaowarat. There are no reports that the prime minister will drop by Khao San Road tomorrow.

Silom walking street is expected to draw large crowds due to a wide range of activities being planned.

Divided into six zones, the strip will offer a variety of products such as arts and crafts, cheap goods from Thong Fah shops, and "Bangkok Brand" and OTOP merchandise. Visitors can stroll up and down the strip for music and cultural shows and food from local eateries including Michelin-starred ones.

Yaowarat Road, which is home to some of the best restaurants and a variety of street food, will be transformed into a food heaven.

aerial eats: Local and foreign tourists watch with intrigue as a vendor tosses food up in the air before catching it in a wok.

According to Athitaya Chokkijmanaschai, assistant director of Samphanthawong district, Plaeng Nam Road, which is an access road from the MRT's Wat Mangkorn station, will also be closed today to take visitors.

At Khao San, the strip is designed to showcase arts and cultural performances -- such as khon masked dances, Thai boxing matches, and cooking demonstrations.

Suriyachai Rawiwan, director of Phra Nakhon district, said food carts will not be allowed inside Khao San Road.

According to Deputy Bangkok governor, Sakoltee Phattiyakul, the pedestrian-only zone in Khao San area is likely to be extended to include Tanao and Sip Sam Hang roads, and vehicles can pass only after 2am.

Gen Anupong said while Bangkok's walking street scheme is making its debut this week, those in the provinces will be launched simultaneously next Sunday.

Interior permanent secretary Chatchai Promlert has been assigned to coordinate with provincial governors to hold their own versions of walking streets which will cater to all age groups, he said.

"It is a street of happiness for vendors and buyers. And it will offer activities that reflect cultures or spirit of local community," he said.

According to Gen Anupong, the walking street project in the provinces is expected to be held until the new year festivity and at least once a month throughout next year. The plan is expected to attract more tourists and spur them into spending more money, which in turn will boost the local economy.

Vendors raise doubts

However, the BMA's plan to turn Silom, Yaowarat and Khao San roads into walking streets to boost tourism and the economy in these commercial areas is drawing a mixed reaction from local vendors.

Some welcome the plan while others question how much it will benefit them. They ask how many of the capital's residents who live in the suburbs will want to travel all the way to the centre just to fill their stomachs.

Banchong Tasawat, 61, owner of a clothes shop on Silom Road, said she supports the plan to turn Silom into a walking street on weekends as it could attract more people to come and spend in the area.

"The number of my customers and sales have fallen sharply since the beginning of this year due to a sluggish economy. I'm not sure how much this project is going to help to improve the situation, but it's still better than doing nothing, so I support it," she said.

Ms Banchong said she's still waiting for registration details from authorities but no BMA officials have contacted her yet.

"Most vendors on Silom Road only learned about this project through the news and we still do not know how we can register or if we can still sell stuff on footpaths. I think the BMA is not doing enough in terms of PR," she said.

Pikul Boon-eye, 49, a gift shop owner in Soi Convent on Silom Road, said she believes the new pedestrian market will be a big help because local vendors will be able to sell without having to worry about street laws while buyers will also be able to walk and shop on the street without having to worry about traffic.

"Every time Silom Road is turned into a walking street, lots of people come. I think the last time was in 2015 and it was successful. My sales increased dramatically during that period and I hope it will be the same this time," she said.

However, Sompong Boonmee, 58, a fruit vendor in Soi Saladaeng on the same road, said she doesn't think the project will benefit her and other vendors in the area much because office workers need places to eat on weekdays while they are at work, not just at weekends when they are likely to be at home resting.

not impressed: Kampan Bhokasang, 37, who sells grilled sweet corn in the Silom area, is not thrilled by the walking street scheme. Her business has been badly hurt by strict rules governing the use of pavements and she wants to sell goods on the sidewalks on weekdays as before.

"Not so many people will want to travel all the way to the city centre just to fill their stomachs on Saturday or Sunday. They might come in the first few weeks, but after that, they will just go to air-conditioned department stores. This is not a sustainable way to solve the problem," she said.

Ms Sompong said she thought the government should focus on measures that help people keep more money in their pockets rather than trying to boost spending when people are tightening their belts. "Many people are now trying to cut unnecessary expenses, stay home and cook their own meals because their incomes have dropped while the cost of living has increased. If the government cannot solve the root cause of the problem, it's not going to help much," she said.

Kampan Bhokasang, 37, a fried corn and banana seller, said many years ago she used to make more than 10,000 baht per day by selling corn and banana, but the number has dropped to 1,000 to 2,000 baht per day in recent years. "BMA's policy to reclaim the streets from vendors has affected us for many years. We don't want walking streets on weekends, but we want the BMA to allow street vendors to sell on sidewalks on weekdays as before," she said.

Warin Kamolwaran, 45, owner of a noodle stall on Yaowarat Road, said the new walking street will not make any difference to her business because lots of people always come to Yaowarat on weekends to eat.

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