Walking streets expansion could mess with Saigon traffic, experts caution

By Huu Nguyen   October 6, 2018 | 06:40 am PT
Walking streets expansion could mess with Saigon traffic, experts caution
A family walks on the sidewalk along motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. Experts fear the city cannot afford to give up more walking space given its heavy traffic. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen
Saigon turning more downtown streets into walking zones could provoke traffic chaos, experts warn.

Urban development experts are advising against Saigon turning a major part of its District 1 into a massive pedestrian zone.

Instead, they said, the city would be better off developing smaller walking zones in different areas.

The city’s Department of Architecture and Planning submitted a proposal to the administration late last month, based on the city’s approved urbanization master plan.

Under the proposal, Le Loi Street and Nguyen Hue Street, which already has an exclusive pedestrian stretch down its middle, the Opera House park, and the Ben Thanh Market walking square will form an unbroken stretch of walking space in the downtown area with lots of attractions.

The department noted that careful landscape research and planning would be required because the Nguyen Hue – Le Loi intersection would become a key crossroad since it lies at a confluence of rapidly rising constructions, malls and other commercial establishments.

Also passing below Le Loi will be the first metro route, whose construction is ongoing. The Le Loi Street section will be handed back to the city by the Urban Railway Management next year.

But Nguyen Minh Hoa, member of the city’s Planning and Architecture Council, said that unlike Nguyen Hue Street, which is mostly home to companies and hotels, Le Loi Street has thousands of houses. Turning it into a walking street would affect daily activities of thousands of residents, he said.

Furthermore, if the pedestrian zone stretches from Nguyen Hue to Le Loi, it will attract a large amount of visitors, meaning more security guards, parking lots, public toilets, restaurants and coffee shops and “things will get more complicated,” he said.

Architect Ngo Viet Nam Son said he supported the idea of opening up more space for pedestrians, but turning Le Loi into a walking street is a move that requires careful consideration.

"Nguyen Hue is shorter than Le Loi and it cuts small streets and thus the fact that it is a pedestrian street does not have much impact on traffic. Le Loi, meanwhile, is longer and cuts across two major streets, Pasteur and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, and it would be a real obstacle for traffic circulation if it turns exclusively pedestrian,” he said.

If Le Loi is used as a walking one, the city’s downtown area will be separated into two parts and vehicles that need to make U-turns will have to travel much further, Son said.

If the city does not prepare well, it could end up generating a messy problem, he added. For instance, he noted, clearing the street for a fire truck to get into the downtown zone or paving it for locals to move out in case of traffic jams would be very difficult to manage.

Vo Kim Cuong, former deputy chief architect of HCMC, said the city should give priority for traffic in the downtown area, because congestion was an everyday problem.

The city should not make a big walking zone that affects the traffic around it, he said.

Professor Hoa suggested that instead of making Le Loi a walking street, the city should stretch the existing walking space on Nguyen Hue to Dong Khoi Street and the area around the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The two walking zones would have different functions, like entertainment and food for Nguyen Hue and culture and art for the cathedral zone, he said.

"A walking street should not simply a zone for walking. It should have lively activities,” he said, adding that the city should also develop such areas in Districts 2 and 7 instead of focusing all of them in the downtown area.

Architect Son said the city should have small walking zones scattered over the downtown area instead of a massive one.

HCMC now has two walking zones on Nguyen Hue Street and Bui Vien Street in the backpacker area. They are both in District 1.

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