Mar 29, 2008
Neil Fitzgerald's solutions are as follows:
1) Public Transport.
Of course we will have the 'subway' of which only 3km will actually be underground. We have a number of lines built by various contractors : Japanese, Chinese, German. The Japanese line has 'broken ground' according to a friend of mine. The line however faces problems already. It has to run through an area bordering D1 owned by the military - they have told the contractors they will 'let them know in 2 years'.
Conclusion : Large part of the solution to some of the city's problems but will take too long to complete. Could open up the city to other options (discussed later).
Korean executives and wealthy Vietnamese parade around in their cars one up plus driver, this is not going to change.
Conclusion: No way this is a solution.
3) Box Junctions
Yellow criss-cross grids in the road which are meant to show areas always to be kept free. The frequent occasions I have witnessed a bus, taxi or other driver exhibit about as much intellect as a wet vegetable by joining a cue directly in the center of a crossroads lead me to believe that road markings, no matter how threateningly they are painted, are useless. Box junctions are however in this sense indicative of Saigon's traffic problems.
My general feeling is that the traffic, no matter how busy, usually moves. However, along each tree-lined boulevard is a tightrope walking left turn across the other lane with no system of give way, a thin layer of ice about to be shattered by an impatient bus driver who presses into the wrong lane. The ebb and flow of the nimble two wheeled traffic is on a knife edge. Gridlock does occur, but usually due to someone else's stupidity.
Conclusion: Again, observation of newly painted box junctions is optimistic, and a drop in the ocean.
4) Widening streets
Many streets have the capacity to be widened, especially ones like the nightmarish Dien Bien Phu, also Vo Thi Sau.
Conclusion : Would help in some places.
Real Solutions - Short Term
1) More traffic police.
Traffic police enable busy junctions to flow. We need many more such workers to police these junctions, at some places almost permanently.
Educational campaigns to increase the observation of traffic laws. Education about using roads - i.e., cyclists staying to the right side of the road. It may seem like a minor point, but actually, the sight of three abreast high school children merrily sailing down the center of a street during rush hour painfully adds to the congestion. Slow moving traffic should be persuaded to stay on the inside.
3) Traffic Signals
More complex signals need to be introduced at certain points. For example, NTMK and CMTT allow both oncoming and left turning traffic. The resultant delay from left turning traffic blocking the oncoming traffic from the other direction means that only a small percentage of vehicles are able to get through. A signal allowing one direction at a time would allow a much greater flow of traffic although mean longer waits.
Roundabouts need the addition of traffic lights, most are horribly susceptible.
4) Road systems
Some current road systems are the main reason for rush hour queues, a ludicrous left turn with no signal or a small alley that allows people to cut across an insanely busy street. Certain routes need to be out of bounds during rush hours. My favourite is just after the Dien Tien Hoang - Dien Bien Phu junction, heading towards Vo Thi Sau. Here we have a series of disruptive systems that cause havoc with the flow of traffic.
Real Solutions - Long Term
Ho Chi Minh City is a massive urban area. The city is a never ending sea of junctions and traffic lights. Interwoven in this urban fabric are schools, government offices, businesses and residential areas. So much of the city's economic infrastructure is based in the five or so central districts, thousands of people commuting from surrounding provinces. Come five o clock when businesses are closing let's say you have to get from D5 or D10 to Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan or Go Vap, all huge residential areas. Your options are reduced to one or two relatively narrow streets : Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Dien Bien Phu, 2/3....all horribly jammed in rush hour. Studies need to be done (if they haven't already) about where the traffic is coming from and assess the daily patterns of movement between districts and around the city. This can help better understand the strain currently felt on the existing road network.
With regard to residential areas, problems are faced by the uniqueness of areas in Ho Chi Minh. Hidden behind the boulevards and intersections are a labyrinth of alleyways and gated communities, each with their own economy of cafes, street sellers, food vendors, private tutors, refuse collectors and way of living. It is common for young Vietnamese to know this environment as the entire world, barely leaving the alley until they reach their late teens. Urban Saigonese have been living this way for generations, however it is essential that they are open to adapting new ways of life in order to cure the cities problems and make it increasingly livable for everybody.
Look to Singapore or Seoul, Tokyo or KL. All massive urban areas, mostly developed relatively recently. Especially in Singapore and Seoul, the solution has been housing projects on a massive scale, all linked to the main business districts of the city center by efficient transport. We have to recognise that HCMC is no longer the small city that some perceive it to be, rather that it will in the future be a massive area of people as its boundaries continue to expand in all directions. According to Wikipedia, HCMC's urban area is the 28th largest in the world, just one place below Bangkok, two below London, and two-thirds the size of Beijing -- it is bigger than the areas in Hong Kong, Taipei, Tehran and Dhaka, not to mention European cities such as Madrid and Milan.
The current developments we see are sporadic apartment blocks going up still inside the city. This is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed. Train lines running from the city center to outlying areas such as Suoi Tien and Go Vap put in place the infrastructure for large scale mid-range housing projects. Given the choice, I feel most Vietnamese would prefer a couple of short train journeys, say one hour in length, compared to one hour of wrestle and sweat on a motorbike on the cities streets.
It is OK to say that the apartment blocks in Seoul and Singapore are ugly and lack character, but they are ruthlessly efficient in keeping bulging populations in check. Just a small corner of Seoul, but look at the housing available....in 3D, apartments.
These developments may take some convincing for Saigon city residents to make the move but they would soon discover the benefits of out of town developments. More space. Cleaner air. Infrastructure naturally follows such as businesses, shops, cafes. Cheaper rent away from the city (for residents and businesses). All linked to the cities metro system with close convenient stations. Distance and journey times are skewered in Vietnam because of the congestion but with good transport links the actual distances are very short.
To go a step further, the future may be in developing 'satellite' cities, such as in Korea. These are whole urban areas that are modern, well planned, have plentiful housing and attract people -- creating an alternative to what is now available. I visited my friend in Illsan, Korea, one such city. Linked to the main hub by train and newly built highways, these new cities could be the future of the entire Mekong Delta region - the question is, could the population adapt.
Mar 19, 2008
Reporting on Thanh Nien Online, Minh Duc's quote pretty much sums it up :
"What the @#%&?!" said a foreigner unlucky enough to get stuck in a jam on Nam Ky Khoi Nghai Street in District 1, the city's main thoroughfare to the airport.
Minh Duc is talking about everyone's favourite topic, the traffic.
"Around 150 cars and 1,300 motorbikes are newly registered in HCMC every day" (cue horror music).
1,300 motorbikes. The city is big, but not so big they can all be swallowed up by these narrow streets.
An article yesterday also had me cringing, where reporters assess the need for 'green space'. I couldn't agree more, but just how do they measure green space....not by parks, no, but by trees. This is there equation : Green space = number of trees in city / people. It is depressing, and one of the main things HCMC desperately misses out on - even in newly developed urban areas - real parks and public spaces.
In HCMC’s 13 urban districts – 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, Go Vap, Tan Binh, Tan Phu, Binh Thanh and Phu Nhuan, over 30 percent of the 956 streets are treeless because there are no pavements or they are too narrow for tree planting.
Also darkly comical :
(Brand new) Nguyen Van Linh Boulevard in District 7 is 80 percent planted with peacock flower trees.
Their roots grow rapidly and protrude above the ground potentially causing damage to the road over the next 20 years, he said.
The 18 kilometer, 10 lane boulevard is one of the city’s biggest and most modern streets, playing an important role in the city’s economic growth.Once again, short term visions for long term needs.
Mar 18, 2008
First up, the yellow Ferrari. Spotted this baby around a few times. Saw an orange Porsche Boxter the other day on highway one.
Next, a bizarre chunk of some part of the city floating down the canal.
This is just plain odd. From Vung Tau.
A quaint little picture also from Vung Tau.
I missed photo opportunities of the garbage truck stuck on the side of the canal and a man who was bathing naked in the canal (although probably no one wants to see that).
Mar 12, 2008
It is also a handy way of making an entry for this months $100 prize on the blog competition over at Expat Advisory (see post below!). If you are a blog writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or Korea, GET INVOLVED (but write something low quality so I can still win). The $100 prize would boost your monthly income by $100 for a month - not bad.
An Everyday Journey - II
I climb from my bed bleary eyed and trudge to the kitchen to gingerly sip on some hot green tea, prepared earlier by my wife (she’s always up earlier than me). If it’s one of those days when I was too lazy to do some morning exercise, then a few stretches have to suffice. I need to get cracking – don the work clothes, pick the least smelly pair of socks and splash my face with water. Grab the keys, money, and the godforsaken parking ticket – always losing it.
Down in the elevator and out into the parking garage. It’s cramped down here, likelihood is that my bike is buried behind three Hondas, each weighing as much as a baby elephant. It’s one of the worst things about living in these apartments that sit on top of a smelly canal which runs directly around the building. Fortunately, my pad is high enough to be above the whiff.
Sunglasses on. Helmet on. Out onto the street, immediately passing the countless array of coffee shops that smatter ground level around the huge apartment block. A few seconds later the full reality of the early morning traffic slaps me in the face as I join the flow. Straight into the routine: pull the throttle, glide, pull the throttle, glide, weave this way, weave that way. As soon as I’m moving, I’m stopped, firstly on the bridge just outside my residence. Some days, the water on the canal is so still I can see a perfect reflection of the small trees that line the bank. My drifting thoughts are abruptly shattered as the traffic groans forward with a monstrous communal roar. At this time in the morning, cream clad traffic cops override the signals, commanding red and green with the flick of a switch. Drivers wait on the starting line, suspiciously eyeing their imposing compatriots, waiting for the movement towards that magical gray switch box. And they’re off again -- but not at any particular pace.
Queuing at just another junction, it feels like I could be part of a
Down Hai Ba Trung, onto Nguyen Dinh Chieu. Not too bad this road, even in rush hour. I swing left onto Nam Khi Khoi Nghai. On occasion I share a nod with the boys at the motorcycle garage – sometimes, time permitting, I’ll grab an oil change and a bike wash here. Crossing over Nguyen Thi Minh Khai into District 1, the street leads down past the
Eventually I break free from the shackles of the city center, passing the construction site of the city’s largest engineering project…maybe one day the tunnel under the river will really become true. At last, after twenty minutes, the Yamaha has a chance to stretch its legs. The bike turns onto Nguyen Tat Thanh. The sun has risen high and beams directly along the long stretch of this dangerous thoroughfare, reflecting off the asphalt. Heavy trucks sound their horns as they ruthlessly scream by. I pick up the speed, but not without caution, hunching over the handlebars keeping the kind of lookout that a circling hawk would be proud of. The world and his wife seem to participate in this frenzied up-and-down, from 40 foot juggernauts to 50cc machines carrying huge baskets of fruit; from the blue overalled, yellow helmeted construction workers on their Hondas to the slow moving labourers with their motorized wheelbarrows. The heat, dust and noise on this street doesn’t sit well – luckily it’s still a little cooler in the AM. To try this in the afternoon you may as well put yourself inside a tumble dryer on a hot wash, having rubbed detergent into your eyes before you climbed in.
I cross the bridge near the Tan Thuan Industrial Area, and motor along
The morning ride to work may only take around 30 minutes, but in that time I travel through the heart of a bustling city rush hour to it’s very edges where I can see the green countryside coming to meet sparkling, still vacant apartment blocks which now scatter HCM’s first true suburb – it’s a vision of the future yet come to pass.
Mar 5, 2008
When I found out that Expat Advisory were running a monthly blog competition worth $100 to the winner, and with my reams of wonderful material (ahem), entering was a forgone conclusion. I entered my article Queuing. I had inside knowledge that I was close to winning, but ended up losing to a story about ants. Phhh.
Just kidding, it was a very well written piece. Well done to Junlah and her piece 'Battlelines'.
I am already plotting my victory for March and therefore entry into the annual prize award of $1200.
Mar 2, 2008
Arriving at the commune, a ramshackle group of buildings were swarming with activity, a cluttered factory area crudely attached to a house, with a courtyard also housing lots of preparation.
Unfinished vases wait to be painted: