New sur­vey finds out how walk­a­ble Bangkok is

A sur­vey by the Ur­ban De­sign and Devel­op­ment Cen­ter shows that peo­ple in Bangkok take to the streets more of­ten than thought


De­spite poor foot­paths and hu­mid weather, Bangkokian­s walk more than is be­lieved, ac­cord­ing to an aca­demic study that fo­cuses on the “walk­a­bil­ity scores” of the cap­i­tal. “It is a myth that Bangkok res­i­dents are city slack­ers who, even in a walk­a­ble dis­tance, pre­fer us­ing cars. But our sur­vey shows the con­trary, some­thing pos­i­tive,” said Asst Prof Ni­ra­mon Kul­siri­som­bat, direc­tor of Ur­ban De­sign and Devel­op­ment Cen­ter (UddC), a town plan­ning project un­der the um­brella of Chu­la­longkorn Uni­ver­sity’s Fac­ulty of Ar­chi­tec­ture’s Depart­ment of Ur­ban and Re­gional Plan­ning.

UddC started its re­search last year by con­duct­ing a sur­vey of 1,111 re­spon­dents to find out how much time and dis­tance city dwellers walk. The sur­vey concludes that a Bangkok res­i­dent spends 9.97 min­utes a day walk­ing, or 800m.

Eight-hun­dred me­tres is not a short dis­tance, com­pared to 600m a day walked by Hong Kong res­i­dents or 850m a day by US cit­i­zens, ac­cord­ing to Asst Prof Ni­ra­mon. There was also a link be­tween the mass rapid trans­port sys­tem and walk­ing. The study found that us­ing the MRT and BTS en­ables peo­ple to walk 500m more than usual.

The study sheds light on the at­ti­tude of pedes­tri­ans. A ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents do not view street ven­dors as ma­jor ob­sta­cles on foot­paths — though a clean-up is un­der way in many city ar­eas. The big­ger hur­dles were ob­struct­ing ob­jects such as phone booths, ad­ver­tise­ment ban­ners, con­struc­tion ma­te­rial and the poor con­di­tion of public pave­ments.

Re­spon­dents wish that the au­thor­i­ties would keep mo­tor­cy­cle taxis off the foot­paths, but they re­gard them and other mass trans­ports as a ma­jor fac­tor that en­cour­ages them to aban­don per­sonal ve­hi­cles and use public trans­port.

But the sur­vey isn’t all that en­cour­ag­ing. Ever-chaotic Bangkok is not an ideal place for those who love to walk be­cause foot­paths are only 175km², or around 10%, of the to­tal city area.

Re­spon­dents com­plained about three un­favourable fac­tors that pre­vent them from walk­ing on public streets: safety con­cerns, con­ve­nience and en­vi­ron­ment.

The study is part of the “GoodWalk” cam­paign, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween UddC and Thai Health Foun­da­tion (THF). UddC is try­ing to in­tro­duce a new town plan­ning con­cept that pro­motes a more ef­fi­cient and en­vi­ron­ment-friendly ur­ban map, favour­ing mass tran­sit, cy­cling or even foot­paths over en­ergy-in­ten­sive cars. THF wants to pro­mote walk­ing in ur­ban ar­eas, for the ben­e­fit of per­sonal health and the en­vi­ron­ment.

UddC also un­veiled, a site with Bangkok’s walk­a­bil­ity map and re­lated in­for­ma­tion. Dig­i­tal maps, with colour­ful high­lights that re­flect a “GoodWalk Score” of sur­veyed ar­eas across Bangkok, is on the web­site. Apart from con­ducive in­fra­struc­ture and good en­vi­ron­ment, the ar­eas with high scores usu­ally have “at­trac­tions” — points that in­flu­ence walk­ing such as work places, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tutes, shop­ping ar­eas, recre­ation ar­eas, public ar­eas and trans­porta­tion.

The GoodWalk Score is cal­cu­lated from ac­ces­si­bil­ity to des­ti­na­tion points, at­trac­tion points in the mea­sured ar­eas. Ar­eas with high­est scores are Siam Square, fol­lowed by Ratchapra­song and Silom.

“The era of walk­ing has ar­rived,” said Asst Prof Ni­ra­mon, adding that ur­ban­i­sa­tion, ex­ten­sion of sub­way and Sky­train sys­tems, as well as ris­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and health aware­ness will lead to changes in how peo­ple choose to go from point A to B. “The new gen­er­a­tion is more in­ter­ested in buy­ing flats that are near the Sky­train or sub­way routes. They look for a city where they can travel by mass tran­sit, with bi­cy­cle lanes and de­cent foot­paths.”

In the rule book of ur­ban plan­ning, walk­a­ble cities are places with eco­nomic po­ten­tials. The flow of peo­ple mean the flow of trans­ac­tions; be­sides, tourists can walk and shop, and small busi­nesses can open along the roads where peo­ple walk. A cre­ative work­force also prefers cities where they can walk and cy­cle be­cause th­ese walk­a­ble cities usu­ally have a cleaner en­vi­ron­ment, public space and lower cost of trans­porta­tion.

Cities around the world such as Copen­hagen in Den­mark and Mel­bourne in Australia are de­vel­op­ing their in­fra­struc­ture and public trans­port to draw cre­ative work­forces.

Bangkok has no­to­ri­ously clut­tered foot­paths and as the plan to de­velop a walk­a­ble city takes shape, what we have seen is a num­ber of el­e­vated walk­ways, or sky­walks.

“Sky­walks mean that cars have won over peo­ple,” said Asst Prof Khaisri Pak­sukchar­ern, head of Depart­ment of Ur­ban and Re­gional Plan­ning at Chu­la­longkorn Uni­ver­sity’s Fac­ulty of Ar­chi­tec­ture. “A healthy and live­able city must have a ra­tio be­tween in­di­vid­ual ve­hi­cles and peo­ple of 30:70. Sky­walks dis­tort that re­al­ity and prove that the sur­face for walk­ing has given way to cars.”

Bangkok’s public pave­ments are viewed as ma­jor ob­sta­cles for walk­ing. Re­spon­dents found food ven­dors are less an­noy­ing than other ob­struc­tions such as phone booths, un­even and dis­con­tin­ued pave­ments, and ad­ver­tise­ment ban­ners.

The map pro­vides the walk­a­bil­ity scores of ma­jor ar­eas in Bangkok. Ar­eas with high­est scores are clas­si­fied by dif­fer­ent colours. Ar­eas with high walk­a­bil­ity scores — from 66-100 points are in dark green. While ar­eas which are hard to ac­cess, or al­most...

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