Crossing Cambodia

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Public vs. private

The perpetual battle between private and public is coming back to the forefront. Roads are a classic example of a public space needed and required for everybody. However, Crossing Cambodia in the past few weeks has mentioned a road (to Bokor) being upgraded by private companies to stimulate private investment though it is unclear whether or not the previously public road will become private and if so what the fees might be. Discussed as well was the use of roads and sidewalks as parking space for successful companies' customers. Then there is the privatisation of the railways which again privatises a public investment with unknown returns. Yesterday's (Wednesday March 5, 2008) Cambodia Daily a Letter to the Editor harks forth on the same topic.
'Return public sidewalks to use for public. Provide the public with a smooth and peaceful walking area please!'
It refers to a TV programme which highlighted Phnom Penh traffic problems and how the government was dealing with this issue.
'However the program did not raise much about the issue of messy and disorderly sidewalks, which need to be addressed if we are to reduce traffic jams and beautify Phnom Penh. Homeowners, restaurants or hotels overtake most sidewalks.They try to own sidewalks. .... They park their vehicles on the sidewalk. ... Pedestrians always have to walk on the street to avoid stuff that has been placed or built on the sidewalk. Or walkers have to maneuver up and down the sidewalk in order to proceed. Why doesn't the Phnom Penh municipal authority do something to solve this problem? ... The municipal authority should push for public parking lots and no longer allow people to park arbitrarily, especially on narrow streets. ... Kimsan Chantara, Phnom Penh'
As if to compensate for that, 100 ramps to allow access for people in wheelchairs have been constructed on the west side of Norodom Boulevard. Note that Norodom is probably the road that has the least obstructions on the sidewalk as it's the alley for all dignitaries to parade themselves.
Paid by the businesses along Norodom? No (in Cambodia,it is customary for riparians to fund the construction of sidewalks) By the government then? No, but funding came from a 'semi-autonomous government body, the National Centre for Disabled Persons'.
A Handicap International spokespersons applauds the efforts:
'officials are on the right track. ... He added that as much as 8 percent of traffic accidents in 2006 involved pedestrians, highlighting the need for accessible sidewalks.'
Well, let's take a closer look at what they have done. Actually it's pretty amazing: at certain driveway's and side streets they have taken out the street stones and made ramps by applying cement. However, these ramps are sometimes quite steep, certainly not uniform. What's more, some side streets have them, others don't. Not very continuous. Crossing Cambodia included a couple of photo's:
The above example shows a ramp but after a couple of meters the sidewalk is blocked by cars, is it the World Bank that is using the sidewalk as a parking place? The next photo is even clearer, great ramp, but of no use!

Despite the sincerity of the project, one must ask the question why the heck initiate this if you can not ensure that the intended solution to the problem can not be obtained due to other reasons! All-in-all a good (i.e. bad) example of how the authorities muddle onwards trying to address the problems but never solving them!

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