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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 22:17 GMT
Bangkok to combat traffic congestion
Traffic on a Bangkok road
At least 2.6m cars are on Bangkok's roads daily
Thailand's capital has adopted pedestrianised streets in parts of the city in an attempt to improve the city's appalling traffic congestion and pollution levels.

The two-month pilot scheme was launched in Silom Road, in the heart of the city's commercial district.

An 800m part of the road has been closed every Sunday for the past two months, an action which led to thousands of rural Thais flocking to the region to see the area, which had previously been flooded with traffic.

Thailand's tourism authority praised the scheme as one where people could finally walk around "in an atmosphere of clean air and total comfort".

And now authorities are planning to halt weekend traffic from passing through four more roads, including the infamous Khao San strip where backpackers congregate.

Government headache

The government was also encouraged by tourism authority figures, quoted by the AFP news agency, which indicate that about 70% of Bangkok residents approve of the closures, saying they hope it will improve air quality.

The problem (in Bangkok) is insufficient mass transportation

Panit Nitithanprapas
More than 2.6m vehicles drive through the streets of Bangkok every day, and the resulting air and noise pollution has proved a constant headache for the city's population and the Thai Government.

Every day the number of cars on the city's streets increases by 481, and Bangkok drivers spend the equivalent of 22 days in their vehicles.

Bangkok's main problem, however, is that it has a severe shortage of roads - a mere 8% of its surface is covered with roads compared with 16% in Tokyo and 20% in the majority of other major cities.

Public transport problems

Traffic chief Panit Nitithanprapas said that another concern is a lack of viable alternatives for Thais wishing to travel.

Another traffic jam in Bangkok
Bangkok has little in terms of mass transport for its citizens

"The problem (in Bangkok) is insufficient mass transportation," he said.

Bangkok possesses no underground rail system, and its much mooted Skytrain, an elevated system, has been criticised for its high prices and limited network.

However, an underground system is due to be completed by 2003 and the government is considering an extension to the Skytrain, which would extend its track by 280km.

Other measures

In recent weeks Thailand's Government has also introduced several other measures aimed at improving traffic congestion.

These include stiff fines handed out by Thai police to speeders and jaywalkers and the threat of increased insurance premiums for repeat traffic offenders.

France's Press Agency quoted Thailand's Nation newspaper as saying that more than 10,000 people were cited in the first five days of the campaign.

See also:

12 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thai drivers face platform shoe ban
30 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Bangkok's 'Lady Buses' on road
20 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thai surfers dodge traffic jams
05 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Skytrain to clear the Bangkok air
05 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Bangkok's Skytrain goes into service
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