Author Topic: Reviving 'Venice of the East' offers traffic congestion fix  (Read 336 times)

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Offline thaiga

Since the late 1990s, policymakers started implementing mass transit systems such as the BTS Skytrain, MRT and Airport Rail Link to deal with the notorious traffic congestion in Bangkok that has been part of the city for the past few decades.

A file picture shows a motorised express boat loaded with commuters making its way along the Saen Saeb canal. Express boat services provide fast, inexpensive transport and a means of cutting across traffic-clogged Bangkok. EPA/RUNGROJ YONGRIT

But to everyone's dismay, the mass transit systems have failed to reduce congestion partly because of a lack of policies to control and manage the growing use of vehicles in the city. The government's recent tax rebate for first-time car buyers made local traffic congestion go from bad to worse.

The cabinet in February approved a plan to expand the existing mass transit system at a cost of 445 billion baht, or 3.9% of the GDP, to reduce traffic congestion and enhance mobility and connectivity.

City Hall is also constructing a 50-kilometre elevated skywalk in the city at a cost of 15 billion baht to encourage people to leave their vehicles and walk.

Such a massive investment to enhance public transport and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure is praiseworthy but it may turn into a huge burden for taxpayers for years to come. It is time to explore if there are any other cost-effective solutions to address local traffic congestion. We may find the solution in Bangkok's history.

Bangkok at its inception as the capital of Siam in 1782 was a water-based city with floating houses and houses on stilts forming a canal-based urban design on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.

The city's rivers and the natural and artificial canals served as distribution, trade, investment and communication hubs. The development on the water helped Bangkok become the "Venice of the East".

The influence of European colonial power in the 1850s encouraged the shift of the water-based development and activities to land, which permanently transformed Bangkok's urban fabric. Many canals were filled in to facilitate this change, and the Venice of the East moniker started to lose its significance.

Only a small fraction of daily commuters use the remaining canals, or khlongs, due to the poor level of service and few connections with other land transport. Our dependency on vehicles has turned Bangkok into one of the most traffic-congested cities in the world.

Experience shows that expanding the road network will bring in more traffic instead of relieving congestion. Mass transit is a much better option but it's expensive.

A more affordable way to reduce congestion could very well be boosting khlong boat transportation services.

Currently, there are only two fixed khlong routes in Bangkok which offer the public transportation services.

When people think of Venice, they envision boats being rowed along canals lined with attractive cafes and restaurants. If it can be done so picturesquely in Venice, and if it could be done in Bangkok three hundred years ago, then there is no reason why it could not be done again.Dinner cruises on the Chao Phraya River and floating markets are very popular tourist activities. That would suggest boats remain a rich part of our heritage. The city must use the positive image of boats to enhance the khlong boat service.

Some initiatives can be undertaken to revamp the boat service. The previous canal routes (10-15 years ago) could be revived. The canals would need to be expanded and maintained regularly, with particular attention paid to the water quality.

The piers need a makeover and must be made safer and more passenger friendly. The canal corridors should also be revamped and landscaped.

Currently, cafes and restaurants exist along some of the piers, but there should be more of them dispersed throughout the entire canal network to boost business and make the city more vibrant.

The existing boats could be replaced with safer, more comfortable energy-efficient boats. Connectivity of the khlong boat network to other public transport in Bangkok should be enhanced and the authorities must get the word out about the revitalised canal service across all types of media.

There are many reasons to revive the Venice of the East's boat service. It would require very little infrastructure as the main requirement _ water _ is already in place.

Our canals provide an excellent alternative to the roads and would help supplement the city's existing mass transit systems. If marketed properly, the canal network could move a large number of commuters on a daily basis, cutting into traffic congestion and air pollution. As a bonus, the dredging of canals to expand the network would add extra space to absorb floodwater during the rainy season.

The khlong boat service would also create many green jobs and enhance businesses along the canals.

Reviving the service could make Bangkok a more livable city while reviving a piece of the country's rich heritage.


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