Beautiful Pedestrian Bridge Opens on Sathorn

Last June I wrote about the opening of Bangkok’s Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, line.  This new bit of mass transit is basically a light rail line but without the infrastructure costs of adding rails.  In a bid to connect a growing corner of the city that has never had significant mass transit to the existing rail network, BRT extends from the Chong Nonsi Skytrain station to the south side of the city along Rama III Road.

Of course, for the system to effectively feed passengers onto the rail network, there had to be an easy connection, something that was missing at the half-way point of last year.  Pictures at the BRT stations promised, though, that a grand, shaded walkway would link the BRT’s terminus with the Skytrain station.


I’m glad to report that just a couple of weeks ago, the arched section of the pedestrian bridge opened.  There is still some additional work being done including the addition of additional, newer stairs to connect to the bridge from surrounding street corners.  This work is proceeding rapidly, though, so I think in just a few short weeks we’ll have a finished product.  Nice to see some bit of urban infrastructure actually come to fruition.


Looking from the BRT station side of the intersection north towards the Skytrain station.


While some finishing touches are being placed on the bridge, it is open and being used.


Lots of people were taking pictures of what is a dramatic addition to the skyline.


Land Use in Central Thailand

Why is traffic in Bangkok so bad?  This is a persistent question that has been at the back of my mind for the more than five years I’ve lived here.  As someone interested in urban design and land use, I always wonder: Is this traffic inevitable or could it have been avoided? 

How does this…

While bicycling on the outskirts of the city last Sunday, I realized that part of the answer lies in looking at the historical land use patterns and how long, thin rice paddies that cut between canals have led to a network of roads that are insufficient to handle Bangkok’s more than six million residents.

Turn into this…

While this realization is the result of consuming other people’s writing and observations and digesting them, it wasn’t until I was riding through an area that is actively undergoing the transformation from rice paddies to development that it became clear to me.

NG Bangkok Traffic
And, eventually, become this?

The result is this six-minute video project, which I hope you’ll find interesting.


Unexplained Landscaping

Sukhumvit Soi 53 (“soi” is Thai for an alley or small street) is one of the nicer sois in Bangkok.  There are generally walkable footpaths on both sides of the soi and several trees provide shade.  So it was a surprise when, in a flurry of unexplained activity, green Bangkok Metropolitan Authority trucks descended upon our soi, removed footpath pavers, and planted hedge rows and new trees the entire length of the soi.

Not that I mind the extra attention and new landscaping, although it is rare to see government landscaping that is actually set into the soil – potted plants seem to be the norm.  But this landscaping project doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere else, just on our already better-than-average soi.  That seems suspicious.


Tawn and I spoke to the workers in front of our condo, who didn’t know much other than they were following directions from their superiors.  This shot captures both the full range of landscaping being added – tall hedge rows in the back, trees in the middle, and short hedge rows in the front – as well as the asinine lack of planning resulting in some areas in an entirely blocked footpath.

“What could be going on?” I wondered to myself.


In some stretches of the soi, such as this barren patch, the new landscaping was a welcome addition.  You can see where pavers have been removed near the curb in order to add hedge rows.  The irony is that a few weeks later, these trees and the hedge rows in front of this house have been inexplicably removed.


In other areas, trees and hedge rows were being planted right in front of properties that already have very lush foliage.  This seems a bit wasteful to me.  The tall trees you see in the distance of this photo, the ones on the left-hand side, are pine trees.  Some of them have been cut down as part of this process.

While we were viewing the planting, a neighbor came up and shared some gossip with us.  The landscaping has been done because a very important person is moving into the soi.  So important that, because of Thailand strict lese majeste laws, I can’t tell you who.

It has been three weeks since the landscaping and I haven’t seen any signs of the pomp, circumstance, and police that one would associate with that sort of VIP.  But it seems likely that this one-off landscaping which isn’t happening anywhere else in our neighborhood, must be the result of someone important.

We’ll see if the rumors come true.  Perhaps more importantly, we’ll see if the landscaping lasts.


Bicycle Taxi = BIXI

Urban planning, public transportation, and bicycling – three of my interests that are rolled into one in a Montreal-based bicycle sharing program called BIXI, short for BIcycle taXI.  BIXI was introduced in June 2009, quickly growing to 5,000 bicycles.  The one-millionth ride was taken in the first five months.  Perhaps this is a model that we will see gain traction in other cities?


Already, BIXI has expanded into Melbourne, Australia and Minneapolis, Minnesota – and London, England and Boston, Massachusetts are supposed to be online this summer.  A system in parts of Washington, DC is scheduled to be on the way, too.  Other cities around the world are installing similar systems.

There is a bicycle rental program here in Bangkok, but it is only in the touristy section of the old city, designed for sightseeing, not transportation.  I do ride my bicycle here, but since there are few places to park, I ride it mostly for exercise and not errands.

Bicycling is an ideal way to get around for many of the errands we run or even for some of the distances we commute.  Much of the year, the weather is fine, and bicycling is faster than walking.  But one of the biggest obstacles is that we don’t want to lug our bicycle all over the place, especially if we need to travel by bus, train, or car for portions of the journey.

Bicycle sharing programs eliminate the hassle.  By providing a bicycle when and where you need it, you can easily integrate a bicycle into your overall transportation options.  The system allows you to take a bicycle from wherever you are and leave it wherever you are going, without having to worry about bringing it back to your point of origin.  A subscription program lets you rent a bike on the fly, free for the first thirty minutes, or you can pay as you go.

Bicycle 3

The bicycles are durable and designed to keep you from getting messy – chain guards and fenders keep the oil and puddles off you.  A handy basket lets you carry your belongings with you and even pick up a bag of groceries or other small items.

Bicycle 2

Best of all, in my opinion, is their convenience.  This map of most of Montreal shows how densely located the BIXI bike stations are.  They are everywhere – usually within a block of where you are!  Especially when tied into transit systems like bus and train lines and large car parks, the bike sharing system makes it easy to switch to a secondary mode of travel, one that is better for you and for our environment.

If you would like more information about BIXI, you can click here.  For more information about bicycle sharing systems in general, here is the Wikipedia article.  Sorry if this sounds like a marketing brochure – I just think BIXI sounds like a cool idea that should be the standard rather than the exception in more cities.


Thinking Ahead to Christmas Travels

My last Saturday in Kansas City.  After rushing around the United States and Canada on business, I’m glad to be back home for my last week.  Lots to do, though.  My parents are in town for the weekend, as my sister is throwing a Bon Voyage party for me this evening.  On the menu: tri-tip roasts prepared two ways (Santa Maria rub and Teriyaki marinade) along with a slew of side dishes prepared by other people.

Christmas Trip – This week I finalised the itinerary that Tawn and I will take for our trip back to Kansas City over Christmas.  As I wrote previously, this was a tough trip to book for several reasons:

First, Tawn only has five vacation days left this calendar year and since Christmas is not a recognized holiday in Thailand, we couldn’t count on any additional days off.  Second, we wanted to hit both Kansas City and San Francisco, as Bruce and Howie were quite adamant when I last saw them that they expect to see us for New Year’s.

Finally, prices were just out of control.  I found a trip on Singapore that would get us to San Francisco and then we would have to book SF to Kansas City separately.  The price was about $2800 total but we arrived on Christmas Day.  To book United the whole way would run us $3600 but we would arrive on Christmas Eve instead.  When I spoke with my sister, she indicated that arriving on Christmas Day wasn’t very workable (at least, that’s how I interpreted her message – maybe inaccurately), so I put up a mental roadblock that the Singapore option wasn’t workable.

It is interesting how putting up mental roadblocks really doesn’t allow you to make good decisions.  Tawn and were discussing the pricier alternative and were at the point of deciding that we would skip the entire trip because $3600 was just too much more than we were willing to pay.  Following that conversation, I stopped by my grandparents’ house and was telling them about the tough decision we faced.

My grandmother, always a woman of great sense and clarity of thought, pointed out that my aunt wasn’t even going to arrive until the day after Christmas and so we would not have the entire Tebow family together until afterwards anyhow.  That was enough to jolt the mental log jam loose, and as I drove back home I realized that if we arrived on Christmas Day, then we arrived on Christmas Day.  That isn’t a good enough reason to spend a ton of extra money.

So that evening I sat down at the computer and made a fresh start of it.  Sure enough, with the mental river flowing unobstructed, I saw options that had previously not been visible to me.  In the end, here’s what we arrived at and booked:

December 24th

    • Leave Bangkok 7:45 am and arrive Singapore 11:10 am
    • (6 hour layover in Singapore – Otto and Han, will you be in town?)
    • Leave Singapore at 5:00 pm, stop in Hong Kong for 1 hour, arrive in SFO 5:55 pm on the same day.
  • (Overnight in San Francisco, staying at the SF Airport Marriott – anyone in town on Christmas Eve and want to have dinner?  Maybe Watergate is open?)

December 25th

  • Leave SFO at 7:15 am, connect in Denver, and arrive Kansas City at 3:00 pm

December 30th

  • Leave Kansas City at 7:10 am, connect in Denver, and arrive SFO at 12:10 pm

January 2nd

    • Leave SFO at 12:05 am (five minutes after January 1st ends)
    • Connect through HKG and SIN
  • Arrive in Bangkok at 2:30 pm on January 3rd.

All this for only US$2,100 plus about 20,000 Mileage Plus miles and one domestic free ticket (for a volunteer denied boarding earlier this spring).  Very good.

Packing – Good news.  Most of what I want to move to BKK on this trip will fit into the suitcases.  I did most of the packing last night.  However, I’m thinking that since the Christmas trip is a go, I might pull out some of the heavier items (I don’t really need all my DVDs right now, do I?) and save them for December.

This will allow some extra room for lighter items like sheets and towels.  Tawn has asked me to buy some here as the quality is better than in Thailand.  Plus, there’s no need to have suitcases that are 50+ pounds apiece.  Better to lighten them up a little bit so they’re easier to handle in New York.