50km of Skywalks to be Built in Bangkok

Bangkok has a unique street-level culture.  Footpaths overflow with food vendors, hawkers, beggars, and motorbikes.  Sometimes there is even room for pedestrians.  This sidewalk chaos is simultaneously the charm of the city and the bane of its residents’ efforts to get from place to place.  The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has announced big plans to move the pedestrians above the crowd onto a 50-km network of skywalks.

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In the future, it seems we will all be computer animated!

Dubbed the “Super Skywalk”, this network would connect existing Skytrain stations with nearby businesses, much in the way the Ratchaprasong shopping district is connected to both the Chidlom and Siam stations.  Ambitious in scope, the skywalks would not only follow all existing Skytrain lines, they would also trace new paths above busy streets like Thong Lo, Asoke, Ramkhamhaeng, and Whithayu (Wireless).

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Map from the BMA showing the proposed Super Skywalk network.

The entire network is slated to be complete in four years, with the first portion, 16 km following the Sukhumvit line from Nana station to Soi Baring (Sukhumvit 107, end of the extension to the line that should open later in 2011), set to open within 18 months.  Interestingly, some of the sections such as Thong Lo and Ramkhamhaeng follow routes Bangkok’s governor has proposed for a monorail line.  There has been no explanation if those plans are still underway.

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The pedestrian bridge built under the Skytrain viaduct, heading east from the Asoke station.

I’ve written previously about various pedestrian bridges being built to connect to Skytrain stations and I’m certainly not the first person to think that a wider network of skywalks would encourage more use of the mass transit systems. 

There are many questions to consider, though.  Will these new skywalks be kept clear of vendors?  Some of the elevated footpaths near Siam Square often look like a repeat of the sidewalks down below, minus the motorbikes.  Also, will the skywalks result in diminished business for the vendors along the street or even for regular, fixed businesses?  Considering that the governor has also proposed creating designated spaces for the vendors similar to Singapore’s hawker centers, perhaps this is part of a larger plan.

It will be interesting to see if and when this project actually is built, what the effects are.  Original article in The Nation newspaper.

Raising the Sidewalks of Krungthep

As layer upon layer of asphalt gets added to the streets, the distance between the road surface and the footpaths steadily diminishes.  Once the torrential showers of rainy season arrive, this means ever more flooding that dampens the ankles of residents.  The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, in all their wisdom, is addressing this issue by raising the sidewalks.  In the case of Sathorn Road, a main business artery, sidewalks have increased by about a foot (30 cm).

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Here you see a raised section abutting a section of the footpath that is at the old height.  The new section actually gains additional elevation behind the fence.  The green metal poles are a new addition, too, designed to prevent motorized vehicles (except motorcycles, I suppose) from driving on the footpaths.  They are still wide enough to allow street vendors’ carts to enter, though.

The problem is – and you can probably anticipate this as it is common to metropolitan governments the world over – the construction crew responsible for raising the footpaths isn’t responsible for raising any of the objects along the footpaths such as street lamps, signs and bus stops.

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The net effect is that bus stop seats that used to be at a comfortable sitting height are now at a squat.  Sure enough, another contractor is following the first one, tearing up the new pavers (which, a first for Krungthep, are actually on a cement base rather than just floating on a layer of sand and dirt), then digging out and raising the benches, shelters, signs, etc.

If I didn’t know better, I would think this inefficiency was an intentional way to spread a little largess.  Wait a minute…  would they do that?  Nah…