Experts cringe at Saigon's plan for massive walking zone

By Huu Nguyen   March 26, 2017 | 09:24 am PT
Experts cringe at Saigon's plan for massive walking zone
A balloon vendor on Nguyen Hue walking street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran
Say tourists won't want to walk long distances to get to hotels and restaurants.

Ho Chi Minh City has plans to make more than 220 hectares (544 acres), or nearly a fifth of its downtown area, exclusive to pedestrians, but experts are questioning the effects of the switch and the challenges it will pose for residents.

The walking area will stand in the heart of the city, covering 7.35 kilometers, and include parts of Dong Khoi, Hai Ba Trung, Le Duan, Le Loi, Ly Tu Trong, Mac Dinh Chi, Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Nguyen Du, Pasteur and several small streets in District 1.

The area has been selected due to the large number of offices located there, such as the city hall and the People’s Court, as well as popular destinations such as Ben Thanh Market, the Opera House, Tao Dan Park and the Saigon Zoo.

If approved, electric buses, a monorail and a subway system will be set up in the area by 2020.

Several parking lots will also be set up on the nearby Le Lai, Pham Ngu Lao, Nguyen Thi Nghia and Nguyen Huu Canh streets, according to a proposal that the transport department will submit to the city’s government for review in the next two months.

Initially, the vehicle restrictions will only apply during weekend nights and holidays.

The city plans to start with streets connected to Nguyen Hue.

However, many experts have said that building such a large walking zone will do more harm than good.

Pham Xuan Mai, a transport lecturer at the HCMC University of Technology, said the plan will have widescale impacts on people’s lives.

Mai told Thanh Nien newspaper that the plan should only be used for tourist and cultural centers, but this is not that case.

“People living in that area will not be able to drive home, and businesses will lose customers,” he said, referring to hotels and restaurants that will find it hard to attract enough customers willing to walk long distances.

Architect Doan Huu Doan also said that the new plan will not solve the city’s traffic problem as vehicles will be squeezed onto other streets.

Before HCMC opens more walking streets, it should develop public transport and solve the severe lack of parking lots, Doan said, as cited by Thanh Nien

The megacity, the most crowded city in Vietnam, is home to nearly 13 million people, including migrants. By the end of last year, vehicles in the city had increased to 8.5 million, including more than 600,000 cars, according to official figures.

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