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Vital Stories

“There was only space for cars”: A Bangkok neighborhood gets safer streets

In Bangkok, streets brim with activity: Motorcyclists zip past tuk-tuks, buses cars, and cyclists, while vendors line many of the city’s major thoroughfares. Almost 12 million automobiles and motorbikes clog the streets of the city of 8.4 million people, and in 2023, road traffic crashes in Bangkok resulted in more than 860 deaths and 136,000 injuries.

As in other cities where vehicles—not people—rule the roads, urban planners and public health officials increasingly face a challenge: How can cities move toward creating safer travel options for all road users?

In 2023, Bangkok’s local government, alongside the Thailand Walking and Cycling Institute, academia and residents, set out to meet this challenge, with support from the Partnership for Healthy Cities, a global network of 74 cities that are committed to preventing noncommunicable diseases and injuries.

Safety is not the only goal of Bangkok’s efforts: “If we can increase space for pedestrians and cyclists, it can help people become healthier,” Bangkok’s Deputy Governor Sanon Wangsrangboon told us on the sidelines of this year’s Partnership for Healthy Cities Summit in Cape Town, South Africa.

Bangkok’s Deputy Governor Sanon Wangsrangboon and Silpa Wairatpanij of the Thailand Walking and Cycling Institute speak to us about the Bangkok project at the 2024 Partnership for Healthy Summit in Cape Town, South Africa. 

BAMRUNG MUEANG: A PILOT PROJECT

Home to major tourist sites and roughly 7,000 residents—many of them elderly—the historic Bamrung Mueang neighborhood was selected as the site for the Bangkok pilot project. The idea was to take evidence-based urban design strategies already proven to increase safety and utility in other cities and apply them to Bamrung Mueang.

To start, the team asked residents directly why so few of them commuted on foot—surprising given that many traveled less than 5 kms round-trip every day. Most had the same concern: With so little space for pedestrians, the roads just didn’t feel safe.

Silpa Wairatpanij of the Thailand Walking and Cycling Institute, explained later: “If people don’t have the space to walk, then for day-to-day tasks they probably end up using cars or motorcycles rather than walking because it feels very dangerous.”

The team engaged community members in the design and implementation process, including through surveys and neighborhood events.  

Working with local community leaders, the project team proposed focusing on six of the neighborhood’s most heavily used streets. From there, a plan came together to increase sidewalk space by roughly 48%—and in July 2023, it received a green light to move ahead with implementation.

The new short-term changes included installing plastic bollards to protect pedestrians and begin to influence the way people drive. The team also restriped roads to indicate turning lanes and mark pedestrian crosswalks. Traffic calming measures from the NACTO: Global Street Design Guide came next: narrowed traffic lanes, curb extensions and raised intersections.

At the Si Kak Sao Ching Cha Intersection new street updates, such as lane markings and updated crosswalk placements, are helping to increase pedestrian safety. 

SUCCESSES SO FAR

The work was finished in March 2024, and so far, the outcomes are overwhelmingly positive: Pedestrian numbers are up. Automobile speeds and the number of vehicles has decreased. While the updates were largely targeted at pedestrians, the team also observed a significant boost in the number of cyclists on the same streets, which they interpreted to mean that slower cars and more space meant cyclists were also feeling safer.

Data from the pilot is currently being reviewed to see how it might inform a scale-up of this model to permanent improvements in this neighborhood and beyond. The city intends any such upgrades to be part of a cohesive transport network that safely connects the city’s smaller streets and alleyways to mass transit options—and encourages people to use active modes of transport in their daily lives.