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A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE


Pedestrians have long been considered the lowest form of life in car-obsessed Bangkok. Now they even risk being fined for using zebra crossings. Find out why here…

People like to scare themselves from time to time – it’s human nature. That’s why we like watching horror films. Those who crave more extreme adrenaline rushes become X-Games athletes, base jumpers or Bangkok pedestrians.

Crossing the road has always been an extreme sport in Bangkok. Just because you walk on the pavement, it doesn’t mean you won’t have to jump out of the way of a speeding motorbike. Just because you use a zebra crossing, it doesn’t mean drivers will stop for you. Just because you look towards oncoming traffic as you cross the road, it doesn’t mean a motorbike travelling the wrong way down the street won’t take you out.

In the latest move to rid the streets of these pesky perambulators, police have been instructed to begin fining pedestrians 200 baht if they don’t use a zebra crossing or footbridge when they cross the road. In some places where there is both a footbridge and a zebra crossing, pedestrians can even be fined for using the crossing rather than the bridge. Go figure!

So why don’t pedestrians use the footbridges? Some claim that the bridges are far from where they wish to cross. Others point out that the unlit bridges provide ideal haunts for muggers or rapists. Then there are the steep, narrow and often uneven steps, which aren’t exactly user-friendly.

The man in charge of footbridge construction in the City of Angels conceded the designs were less than ideal. Chatinai Navabhume, BMA’s engineering division director, told the Bangkok Post, “We can’t design the perfect bridge because we don’t have enough space”.

He certainly has a point. Bangkok’s dense sidewalk jungles of electricity pylons, telegraph poles, signposts, overhanging cables, and ankle-breaking potholes resemble more of an extreme assault course than a pedestrian walkway. Finding space to place the steps to a footbridge without blocking shop fronts while still leaving a few centimetres for pedestrians to pass is no easy task.

Any remaining space is usually inhabited by unlicensed food vendors, beggars, glue sniffers and gray market traders. I’ve often wondered why the BMA placed so many sidewalks in the middle of bustling markets.

To be fair, it is not just the pedestrians who are being targeted this time. Motorists who fail to stop for pedestrians at zebra crossings can be fined 1,000 baht – in theory at least.

However, a week after the latest measures were introduced, Naked Farang has seen little evidence to suggest they will be any more effective than the laws relating to stopping at red traffic lights, not using mobile phones when driving, and using indicators when turning.

There’s an old saying that laws are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men. There are a lot of wise drivers in Thailand it seems.

Paul Snowdon – August 9, 2009

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