Crossing Cambodia

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

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.
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