Crossing Cambodia

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sidewalks improving.

The new newspaper stands on street 51.

Quite some time ago the municipality announced a drive to substitute newspaper stands as they were an eyesore and possible terrorist threat. So, half a year later, there they are. On street 51. Improvemnt, mmm, but they look a bit small. And the municipality seems intent on ursurping the free space to widen the intersection of street 51 and Sihanouk Boulevard.

From the press: Road taxes

Read this form the Cambodian Daily, June 27, 2006
Road Tax Revenues Are Up to Last Year’s Level
As Friday’s annual deadline for paying Phnom Penh’s road tax approaches, the municipality said Monday that it has collected about the same amount of tax as in 2005. “The city targeted $2.5 million…we have collected nearly 100%,’ said Om Chon, director of tax and excise department. He said that while roughly the same amount as in 2005 has been collected, the government had hoped it might exceed that target because there has been a 10-to-15-percent increase in the number of imported vehicles. Starting Saturday, police will begin pulling over vehicles without 2006 tax stickers and fining vehicle owners double the amount of tax they owe. The taxes range from $0.73 to $1.80 for motorbikes and from $24.30 to $243 for cars and sport utility vehicles. The tax goes directly into the national treasury, Om Chon said. ‘If we need money to expand roads in the city, we could send a request to the Ministry of Finance,’ he said. Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema could not be reached for comment. (Kay Kimsong).

• They had hoped for more, based on an increase in the number of vehicles imported. Look’s correct to presume this, so where is the tax, is it not being paid or has this amount been misplaced….

Experience walking in phnom penh

Today’s posting on khmer 440 comes from Stan who shares his experiences with walking (late nights) in Phnom Penh. Crossing Cambodia would like to share with you the following.

On traffic insanity:
The total insanity of Phnom Penh’s traffic is another powerful deterrent to my riding on them (moto's). It’s not like I never ride. There are occasions when I have to if I want to go places with friends. Nearly every time though I’m further reminded why it’s not for me. The most difficult part is the mere centimeters between vehicles while they weave in and out without even looking at who might be next to them or in back of them. This is closely followed by the cowboys who race through heavy traffic. I know people who’ve been hit while standing still waiting for a light to change. I’m out a lot and even though I make a point in the daytime of using alleys and streets with minimal traffic, I still see accidents or the immediate aftermath on a frequent basis. I’m in pretty good shape for my age, but still, broken bones would be a tremendous hassle.

And concerning sidewalks:
Finally, there’s no way to talk about walking without mentioning sidewalks once again. Phnom Penh’s governor recently announced that the city was going to narrow all of the city’s sidewalks to make way for more vehicles. I quickly fired off a response to the Daily (the Cambodian Daily). Nobody walks, he said, we like motorbikes and cars. On the contrary, I retorted, lots of people walk and more would if it were safe and pleasant. One has only to witness the throngs of walkers on Sisowath on a pleasant weekend evening to see how wrong he is. Anyway, is every primary school kid going to jump into his or her Tico (a Daewoo Tico, cheapest 4-wheeled vehicle in the country) vehicle to drive to school? More accurately, he could have said that none of his friends walk.

And then more specifically on yesterday's posting concerning sidewalks:
Besides, he (the govenor) went on, the sidewalks are anarchy, blocked with parked cars, restaurants, etc. At this point their being blocked is only part of the problem. A little background is in order. The practice of property owners usurping public sidewalks for private uses only came into being with the Vietnamese occupation. Before then nothing was allowed on them. As an adjunct of the country’s troubles, all rules of construction, relative to sidewalks at least, were suspended. I don’t mean to imply in any of this that sidewalks should only be for pedestrians; there’s plenty of room for them to serve multi-purposes as long as minimal passage is maintained for walkers and they are designed primarily for that purpose.

Previously, curbs were square, sidewalks were flat and all were on the same level. You can still see that in some of the older parts of town. Now property owners think of sidewalks primarily as ramps to get their vehicles onto their sidewalks or into their houses, rather than places for people to walk. As a result, some are very slanted, making them difficult to walk on. Furthermore, each property owner now designs his or her own, so they are frequently at different levels; it’s like going up and down stairs, not what a sidewalk is supposed to be.

But in the end Cambodia Crossing concludes that on policy level there is hardly any interest in pedestrian issues, so expect worse to come.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

1. The surface. 1.1.2 Sidewalk surfacing

The issue of sidewalks in Cambodia is nearly non-existent. Simply because with the exception of inner Phnom Penh and main roads in and out of the city, there are no sidewalks! Just a shoulder of dirt, which functions as a sidewalk. And what are those functions. Well, for use of pedestrians does not seem to be so important, as you have seen in the previous blog on sidewalk issues. Sidewalks are used for parking, a temporary extension of business surface, business advertising, restaurant and more inspiring options.

The demand for iron products (gates, fences, porches) is ever increasing. Use the sidewalk. On street 63.

Where the sidewalks are unsurfaced, especially in built up areas, the goal of sidewalk business seems to extend the trade while leaving a sparse section of the road for traffic to pass.
Trading, parking, rubbish collection on the sidewalk. Pedestrian forced to take main road. Street 63

As mentioned, there are sealed sidewalks. Here, there is a clear distinction between sidewalk and road, though parking practices make this distinction a bit fuzzy. The sealed sidewalks are often sections of cement (changing between different proprietors) or cement tiles (in the richer suburbs), sometimes with a tree here or there to make the street look better. All this to stimulate pedestrians?

Finally sealed

See also the post of Sihanouk-Monivong crossroad. The wider intersection road surface has finally been sealed, roughly 3 months after commencing. Just the sidewalk remains….

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Solving traffic jams

In spite of the impression Crossing Cambodia in some cases might suggest Cambodian authorities do take traffic issues very serious. At least that’s what Crossing Cambodia deduces from yesterdays newspaper (Cambodian Daily, Wednesday, June 21, 2006).
'Fifteen hundred mostly female garment workers marching to the National Assembly....'

They were met by:
'Police, some of whom were carrying AK-47s....
The police operation ensured security in the capital and prevented traffic jams, he (Municipal Police Commissioner Touch Naruth) said'.

Considering traffic jams are becoming more commonplace and this trend will continue in the coming years, will the traffic police be equipped with AK-47 and electric batons to avoid Phnom Penh becoming another congested Asian city?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Passionate Opinions? II

On the opinion section of today's Cambodian Daily (June 20, 2006) a letter to the editor by Oum Ratha of Phnom Penh:
People Should be Encouraged to Drive Less
Traffic accidents, congestion and air pollution are increasing in Phnom Penh and can be attributed to the rapidly increasing number of private cars. Attempts must therefore be made to encourage people to use their cars less and use public transport more.

A couple of comments. Within the big smoke public transport is non-existent. The problems cited are also due to more motorcycles. But the 1,000,000 riel question is how to encourage people to use their cars less (actually this should be dissuade, but let's remain positive). Higher petrol prices, stimulating alternatives (cycling / public transport), no car days, etc, etc. Feasible? Hmmm...

Monday, June 19, 2006

2. Rules and regulations - 2.1 Driving direction

Tackling the issue head-on, against the grain on Norodom

Part of the evolution of increasing mobility has been the need for agreement on rules. Probably, society decided early on in the evolution process which side of the road to drive on. In most countries this was the right side. This also applies for Cambodia. But in all truth, in Cambodia it’s not a rule set in stone, rather a tendency. Most Cambodians prefer not to be standing still. A result of this is that a driver approaching a busy intersection and wanting to turn left; he/she will move to the left hand of the road, take the turn and continue on the left hand until an opening occurs in the on-coming traffic allowing for the vehicle to cross to the right side.
Obviously this has certain advantages, especially for two wheelers who see no need to slow-down, let alone stop / give way. Because the oncoming traffic is used to this practice, two wheelers who plan two left turns, simply stay on the wrong side: less distance to cover, no need to stop. The next step in this evolution of driving practices is for two-wheelers to drive down a one-way street opposite the legal driving condition, but that’s an aspect Crossing Cambodia will cover in future.
So, why in the wider world is driving on the wrong side frowned on? Obviously it’s dangerous, careering around intersections on the wrong side without knowing what’s coming head-on. Pedestrians and other traffic users willing to cross the road have to pay extra attention to traffic coming from both directions. Oncoming traffic has to give way, without traffic behind them giving them space.

Another aspect Crossing Cambodia will ponder is the position of the steering wheel in cars. Cambodia’s roads (or actually the roads of Phnom Penh) are brimming with second hand cars from many other wealthier Asian countries. Good idea, using the cast-offs of others. But there are a considerable percent of cars (possibly 10%?) imported from Thailand with the steering wheels on the wrong side. Officially these are illegal or were as Cambodian authorities are becoming more lenient on left-hand drive cars. Under the pretext of collecting more (road) taxes, the previous illegal cars are now allowed to carry a license plate. The same authorities see this as more important than having drivers who for instance when overtaking can quickly oversee on-coming traffic to see whether the manoeuvre can be safely executed. But safety of Cambodian roads is not perceived to be a core task of the Cambodian government.

Monday, June 12, 2006

1. The surface - 1.1 In the city

Whenever you need to move, having some wheels is highly advantageous. But once the proud owner of a set of wheels, we need to explore what to use these on. Seeing that from the nineteen seventies onwards nearly everything was destroyed in Cambodia, there is not always some nice black-topped road. Five years ago, it was not even feasible to travel to Siem Reap, the major tourist destination. It was fly or float (by boat). But now, there seems to be a not so bad national grid of black-topped roads.
Much the same applied to the ‘big smoke’, Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. Crossing Cambodia first visited the place back in 2002. Back then there were very few blacktopped roads, only the main grid. Most, if not all side roads, were dusty affairs. Positively, this has changed: near the main city center many of these side roads have or are being upgraded. There does seem to be a positive correlation between the wealth of the businesses/residential properties and the amount of blacktopping. Let’s call it a coincidence.

In 2002, street 278 was unpaved, now in tip-top condition

Sadly, some roads are falling into disrepair. They potholes are resulting in dangerous situations, especially now in the rainy season. Puddles disguise the depth of the hole, much to the distress of two-wheelers.

The unpaved street 282

The unpaved roads, present their own problems. As Cambodians have a luck-luster affair with garbage collection, the roads tend to incorporate a certain degree of refuse. Additionally due to the real-estate renovation boom, small amounts of debris are added, however mostly broken bricks, not the more obvious dirt. All-in-all, this makes careful driving on Phnom Penh’s unpaved roads required. The dry season then has the added problem of dust from the unpaved roads, mostly produced by speeding cars, not so nice for other road users or local inhabitants. But that is not the problem of the driver, simply the problem of Phnom Penh’s roads’ co-user.

Great pot-holing on street 63!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Passionate Opinions?

Sihanouk - Monivong Crossroad

The 'widened' crossroad. Four months after commence still not finished. The new light is also in need of repairs.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

From the press: Expensive motorbikes

KI Media publishes this from the Cambodian Daily:

Thursday, June 08, 2006
Ministry Paid $1.7 Million for 54 Motorbikes
Thursday, June 8, 2006

By Phann Ana and James Welsh

The Interior Ministry has defended spending more than $1.7 million on 54 police motorbikes of a model that debuted in 1984, saying there was no corruption involved in the deals and that they came at the best price possible.

The Honda CBX750 police bikes, for which the ministry paid twice the price quoted for the latest-model Honda police bikes, were purchased in two batches in November 2000 and March 2002, according to contracts recently obtained.

By comparison, South Africa's Cape Town police purchased nine new, fully-equipped Honda CBX750 police patrol bikes in 2002 for approximately $10,000 each, according to South African online magazine Motoring. That price was about $20,000 less than the price paid for each motorcycle by Cambodia's police force.

In the US state of California, the city of Modesto received quotes for Honda's latest police bike, the 2006 model ST1300, that ranged from $14,682 to $16,020 per bike, according to a January council agenda report for the city.

That price is about half of what Cambodia paid for each of the classic CBX750 models.
The online magazine Inside Bikes describes the CBX750 as a "[p]olice spec bike, general sold in South America, Asia and other cash-strapped police forces."

Em Samnang, director of finance at the Interior Ministry, said in an interview in May that the pricey motorcycle purchases were completely legal. "The purchasing price was not a result of corruption, but came out from the real situation of the market," Em Samnang said.

The contracts for the Cambodian police bikes were even signed off on by National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and then-co-Interior Minister You Hockry.

According to documents, in November 2000, Dul Koeun, director of the economic and finance department of the Interior Ministry, signed a contract for 24 new police escort bikes with attached Motorola walkie-talkies for $36,400 each—-$35,000 for the motorbikes and $1,400 for the radio equipment—from Hoang Viet Company in Ho Chi Minh City.

The purchase came after the ministry had tried to repair older police bikes donated by Russia and Germany that were too old to use, Em Samnang said.

No local company could have supplied the Honda police, bikes at a lower price, Em Samnang maintained, adding that the vehicles were needed to escort foreign dignitaries and the King.

Em Samnang said that he traveled personally to Vietnam to negotiate the purchase, and that he brought back a catalogue for the ministry to discuss.

He added that at that time, in 2000, the Interior Ministry did not have a procurement process that required advertising for companies to bid competitively on the contract, but said he believed that everything was conducted according to the law.

"There was one [local] company that demanded $60,000 for each bike," he said. ".... [T]he ministry decided to shake hands with a foreign company."

The ministry agreed to accept the Hoang Viet company's price of $873,600 for 24 motorcycles and sent a proposal to the Finance Ministry to purchase the bikes.

"The price was not unilaterally accepted [by the Interior Ministry], but the [Finance Ministry] approved it," Em Samnang said.

Then, in April 8, 2002, a contract was signed by Hok Lundy, Sar Kheng and You Hockry to purchase 30 additional police bikes from Khan Sarith, director of the Flying Bikes shop on Street 114 in Phnom Penh. This time, the bikes still cost a whopping $29,978 each including freight and transport insurance, but were $5,022 cheaper per bike than the 2000 purchase.

"At that time the local market was getting broader, so we could find a local company," Em Samnang said. 'We tried our best and found a cheaper price and saved the state budget," he said of the bill of nearly $900,000.

Khan Sarith said by telephone in April that he no longer worked at Flying Bikes, but added that he was contacted by the Interior Ministry regarding the Japanese-made bikes prior to the 2002 deal. "I know somebody in the Ministry of Interior," he said. 'They just came to talk to me."

Although his name is on the contract, Khan Sarith said he merely helped facilitate the deal and did not actually sell the bikes.

When contacted by a reporter, You Hockry said Hok Lundy had all the documents related to the motorbikes, and referred questions to him. "It was a long time ago, I have forgotten it," said You Hockry, who is Funcinpec's second deputy president of the National Assembly.

Asked about the procurement of the bikes, Hok Lundy referred questions to the Interior Ministry's finance department Uth Chhorn, National Auditing Authority auditor general, said he had not received any complaints about the purchases but would investigate if a complaint were submitted.

Finance Ministry Secretary of State Chea Peng Chheang said he had no information on the purchases.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said the National Audit Authority should investigate the deals, and alleged that more than $1 million may have been siphoned off through the motorcycle purchases.

"We would like to have Hok Lundy and others answer to this in parliament," Son Chhay said. "We see Hok Lundy getting richer and richer and ordinary policemen hardly have shoes to wear."

Em Samnang dismissed Son Chhay's accusations as groundless. "I understand his good intention in his aim to save the state budget," Em Samnang said. "But his words are not logical at all, it could damage the Khmer image."

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he was unaware of the purchases, but was confident that government officials were not serving their own interests.

"The government and the parties outside the government are combined together and are working for the interests of the Cambodian nation," Khieu Sopheak said

From the press: Sidewalks ...

Read this:

City Says All Sidewalks Will Be Narrowed
By Kuch Naren and Elizabeth Tomei
For The Cambodian Daily, June 6, 2006

To cope with Phnom Penh’s burgeoning traffic problem, the municipality is planning to cut into sidewalks along all the streets in the capital, municipal officials said.
The municipality has already narrowed sidewalks by at least one meter along 100-meter stretches at three major intersections in the capital, on Monivong, Sihanoukand Russian Confederation boulevards.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said Sunday that the citywide pavement narrowing project will help make more room for cars, and should not be problematic as few people use the capital’s sidewalks anyway.
“I want to reduce all the sidewalks to be smaller and smaller because our people use cars and motorbikes. We do not like to walk” Kep Chuktema said.
“Sidewalks have been used as car parks or to keep goods in anarchy,” he said.
“The municipality will reduce all sidewalks on all Phnom Penh’s streets,” Kep Chuktema said, adding that the project will be carried out once sufficient funds are found.
Barriers will also be built to prevent vehicles from parking on the narrowed sidewalks, he said.
Nhem Saran, director of the Municipal Public Works and Transport Department, said the wider intersections resulting from the narrower sidewalks have been fitted with new traffic lights.
The municipality also intends to mark additional traffic lanes to divide vehicle traffic at intersections, he added.
Several Phnom Penh residents welcomed the shortened sidewalks. “Cambodian people love driving cars and motorbikes rather than walking along the sidewalk, so the enlarged roads and smaller sidewalks do not affect my business,” said Sao Sokhalay, who sells electronics out of his home on Monivong Boulevard.
Ruos Vannary, 29, who operates a printing business from a small table on Monivong Boulevard near Wat Koh pagoda said that there are few pedestrians in the capital and that she has no objection to the sidewalks being narrowed.
But not everyone welcomed the project. Architect Helen Grant-Ross said it reflected a common attitude among some officials.
“They prefer cars to people,” she said, and declined further comment.
Jean van Wetter, coordinator of operations for Handicap International, which monitors traffic accidents in Cambodia, said side-walks are necessary for pedestrians.
“There is no place for pedestrians in Phnom Penh,” he said.
Van Wetter added that 10 percent of all traffic causalities are pedestrians, often those who are forced to walk on the road because there is already so little space on the sidewalk.

• Are Cambodians afraid of walking? Maybe a point there. It certainly isn’t a popular past-time. And only the expats complaining. Then again these kinds of changes do not encourage walking.
• The construction of one meter wider sidewalks started back in February. Now, June 7, they still haven’t completed them.
• What’s next to expect? Roads exclusively for parliamentarians’ Humvee’s?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

First impression

Anybody, fresh from the plane in either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh will be intrigued by the nature of the traffic. Chaotic, anarchic, odd. Half of the vehicles plying the road are motorbikes, quite a few overloaded with more than 2 persons. Everybody seems to be moving with a tendency for sticking to the right hand of the road, with the space nearest the sidewalk reserved for an alternative load of traffic facing the general traffic direction. At crossroads, most drivers opt for the shortest routes and all traffic streams teem through each other trying to avoid a collision. Well that’s the first impressions. The following illustration was obtained from the Tales of Asia blog and refers to a possible traffic flow on any typical Cambodian crossroad. Mind you, there are many more possibilities!

More detailed observation reveals that Cambodian drivers are forward looking, often resulting in cutting the traffic behind. Class distinctions: the more important a car looks, the more the driver receives the privilege of having others brake for him/her. Drivers take risks, blindly throwing themselves in the melee with little or no precautions to safety, not their own and especially none for more traffic users.

Well that’s sufficient for the first impression, from now on Cambodia Crossing will be looking more intensely at the various traffic users and the different methods used. Additionally Crossing Cambodia will try to keep you posted concerning new measures and other traffic news from the Cambodian press.

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