Hanoi residents kick out at new pedestrian zone

By VnExpress   September 13, 2016 | 02:41 pm GMT+7
Hanoi residents kick out at new pedestrian zone
A view of Ta Hien Street - a popular destination for nightlife activities in Hanoi, which is close to the newly opened pedestrian zone near Hoan Kiem Lake. Photo by Giang Huy/VnExpress

Hanoi authorities are juggling the needs of pedestrians, drivers and business lobbies.

Authorities in Hanoi are trying to juggle the needs of pedestrians, drivers and business lobbies all at once as they trial a vehicle-free zone in the heart of the city.

When the city announced the plan to turn a big chunk of its downtown into a pedestrian zone last month, many people were thrilled. Supporters said that closing the city’s central area off from motor vehicles from Friday evening through the weekend could make Hanoi a greener, cleaner and more likable place.

Judging by the photos taken over the last two weeks, the idea of closing off streets around Hoan Kiem Lake in the city center to vehicles appears to be a hit.

However, people are already weighing in with criticism about turning the most densely populated and lively neighborhoods in inner Hanoi into a quiet area during the daytime and a permanent party zone at night.

The most vocal critics are local businesses and residents living inside the designated zone.

Businesses in the neighborhood have echoed these concerns, saying the plan threatens their livelihoods.

Quynh Anh, a shop owner in a small alley on Dinh Tien Hoang Street, said closing the streets makes it even more difficult for customers to reach her shop as parking lots are inconveniently situated far from the pedestrian zone.

For female customers in high heels, walking such a long way is quite an effort, she added.

Le Thanh Huong, a souvenir shop owner on Hang Khay Street, said the zone should only be closed to traffic during the evenings as the pedestrian zone is significantly quieter during the day.

“Most people hanging around here are local residents who come to exercise or relax. Tourists only come down here to shop,” said Huong, referring to the fact that businesses inside the pedestrian zone mainly make their money from tourism services.

“In the winter, when it is cold, who knows how empty the street will be,” she added, expecting even less customers in the next few months.

Dang Thi Phuong, a "banh mi" stall owner, said her business has been noticeably slower since the zone was introduced two weeks ago.

Local residents have also started to feel the negative sides of the city’s initiative to block motor vehicles from the downtown.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, a resident living inside the zone, told VnExpress that last Saturday her neighbor was getting married, but when the groom came to pick from her parents' house in the morning, the wedding motorcade had to park outside the restricted area and everyone had to get out of the cars and walk in the hot weather. 

“The city has given each resident an access card to enter the area in a motor vehicle. When we have friends or relatives come to visit, they have no choice but to park their vehicles outside the area. It is very inconvenient,” said Thuy.

Those critical of the whole idea say that it shouldn't just be about blocking vehicles from the streets; it should be about turning streets into places where people can hang out and have a good time.

They suggested that the city should organize cultural events and entertainment during days when the streets are closed.

“The streets should only be pedestrianized on Saturday and Sunday evenings because residents here have to make a living,” said a business owner on Hang Khay Street.

The plan has also raised the question about what happens to the vehicles that cannot enter the restricted zone.

Traffic is being funneled around the area that surrounds the pedestrian zone, which could threaten the quality of life for residents there.

The trial pedestrian street experiment will run until the end of this year, after which the city will decide whether to close it, keep it or expand it.

The pedestrian zone is the brainchild of Hanoi's People’s Committee Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung. He believes that the pedestrian zone will enliven the city and attract more tourists to Hanoi to boost the tourism industry.

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