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The freedom to move: how Bangkok is improving its sidewalks

Written by World Events

Bangkok is fully committed to transforming into a more pedestrian-friendly and healthier city, with City Hall and experts continuing their ongoing efforts to enhance sidewalks and associated infrastructure.

Wissanu Sapsompol, Deputy Governor of Bangkok, opened the recent Goodwalk Forum Thailand 2023 with a presentation on the strategic initiatives aimed at making Bangkok a city conducive to pedestrians. This forum marked a decade of the Goodwalk Thailand project, which was initiated by the Urban Design and Development Center (UDDC).

Recognising the needs of urban residents, Governor Chadchart Sittipunt’s administration has prioritised the renovation of sidewalks. Sidewalks play a vital role in improving mobility within the city, making it easier and more efficient for commuters to move from point A to point B.

City Hall’s popular “Traffy Fondue” app, introduced approximately 18 months ago, has received over 337,000 complaints, some 10 per cent related to issues with sidewalks. This app serves as an online platform for residents to report problems or shortcomings in city infrastructure or management.

Despite plans to expand the city’s rail network to cover more than 450 kilometres in Bangkok and surrounding areas by 2028, the key challenge remains the first and last mile, said Wissanu. To enhance mobility, sidewalks must not only be in good condition but also friendly to all pedestrians and wheelchair users.

To make the first and last mile more walkable and accessible to commuters, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has devised several solutions. These include covered walkways, elevated walkways, and designating the lane on the far left of smaller streets without pavements as walkable paths.

In addition, the BMA has collaborated with volunteer marathon runners to survey 50 potential routes, totalling 500 kilometres, for City Hall to improve sidewalks. Currently, four routes, covering 40 km including one in the old town, have been improved. Wissanu noted that if these routes are suitable for marathon runners, they should be practical for pedestrians.

The current administration has set the goal of improving 1,000 kilometres of sidewalks across the capital by 2026 and has already achieved approximately half of that target.

Assistant Professor Niramon Serisakul, the director of UDDC who initiated the Goodwalk Thailand project, emphasised the importance of urban planning in the well-being of residents. Poor infrastructure, such as impractical sidewalks, has discouraged residents from walking and pushed them to opt for alternative transportation like cars or motorcycle taxis.

Thailand is transitioning into an ageing society, which will inevitably lead to an increase in wheelchair users and individuals with mobility challenges. Therefore, creating pedestrian-friendly and practical sidewalks is essential.

Niramon highlighted the positive impact of prioritising pedestrians over cars in a city. This not only improves the residents’ health but also boosts the local economy. Unlike car drivers who typically move

directly from point A to point B, pedestrians tend to explore smaller alleys, spend time at local stores, and engage with others.

“The lighter traffic, the more people walk, and the friendlier the city becomes,” said Niramon

In another event that took place on the same day, Governor Chadchart Suttipunt spent the afternoon in a wheelchair exploring the Bangna and Lasalle neighbourhoods with wheelchair users Manit Intarapim and Krisana Lalai. They have been actively advocating for accessible pavements for all. This experiment aimed to ensure that Bangkok’s sidewalks are indeed accessible to all.

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