The battle for Saigon’s pavements is over - the motorbikes won

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29 May 2017

If Saigon's recent pavement clearing campaign was designed to make the city safe for walking, it's failed. Meanwhile, Hanoi's embracing walking with outstanding results for locals and visitors.


When news first hit of a campaign to clear Saigon's pavements, I was very positive. The city's decline as a place for walking - and what that means for locals and travellers - has been a concern here for long time.

I initially assumed the campaign, announced a few months ago, was about clearing motorbikes from pavements and making the city safer and more attractive for those who like to get around on foot.

 

Instead, the focus seems to have been on clearing away street vendors - a complicated issue itself. 



With the campaign apparently over, we have a situation where motorbikes can ride more aggressively than ever, on pavements freshly cleared of street vendors and other obstacles, and pose an even greater threat to pedestrians.

 

Turning the other way. Saigon's pavements have ceased to function for walkers.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Turning the other way. Saigon's pavements have ceased to function for walkers.

 

A downtown Saigon pavement - metres from hotels and the centre of govermment.
Photo: Mark Bowyer A downtown Saigon pavement - metres from hotels and the centre of govermment.

 

Tourists learning some of Saigon's unusual traffic practices.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Tourists learning some of Saigon's unusual traffic practices.
 

 

Walking around the main District 1 tourist precinct over the weekend, motorbikes were menacing tourists on pavements more than ever. Ly Tu Trong St, Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St, Le Thanh Ton St, and Pasteur St, were especially bad.

This is the administrative and tourist heart of the city. It’s not a good look. And it’s dangerous.

We like that place where the interests of locals and travellers come together - and this seems like one of those.

Saigon’s pavement problems are a symptom of the city’s rapid descent into traffic dysfunction.

The impact of Metro construction is being compounded by a fast growing population, big increases in cars,  greater numbers of people working in new downtown office towers, an absence of effective public transport, an aversion to walking, and a road grid that has barely improved since the French left. This is the stuff that drives motorbikes onto the pavement. It's a disaster of planning.


Meanwhile in Hanoi's tourism precinct, the walking situation continues to improve. Central Hanoi was a better place for walking even before its most recent initiatives - and despite the reputation Hanoians have rightly earned for more aggressive driving antics. 

 

Walking in Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Walking in Hanoi

 

Walking Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake
Photo: Mark Bowyer Walking Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake

 

Walking Hanoi's Old Quarter on weekend nights.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Walking Hanoi's Old Quarter on weekend nights.

 

Two delightful old walkers - Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Two delightful old walkers - Hanoi

 

This guy broke through the barrier - walking in Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer This guy broke through the barrier - walking in Hanoi

 

The closure of large areas of the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake to traffic on weekends, has given an added boost to the city.

 Hoan Kiem Lake has always been a magnet for walkers - locals and tourists. Now, weekend visitors to the city can wander the historic streets of the Old Quarter free of traffic too.

Those of us waiting for Saigon to be a place that welcomes walkers again, will continue to wait. Meanwhile, the city's appeal as a tourism destination flounders.

Walking is an important measure of a city. Just ask Hanoi.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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