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The greening of Ratchadaphisek Road

http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/407881/the-greening-of-ratchadaphisek

One of the busiest areas of the capital for shopping, sightseeing, clubbing or just wandering, Ratchadaphisek Road is also one of the messiest, as City Hall acknowledges. And so changes are afoot 

The City Planning Department is arranging to work with local business operators to improve the landscape of the strip. An initial perspective design of the road has already been created by the department. Our design is based on scenic streets chosen from famous cities around the world,” said department chief Kriangphon Phatthanarat, referring to a pilot project to improve the landscape of the road from the Rama IX intersection to the Thailand Cultural Centre T-junction. 

Basically, Ratchada must be levelled and pavements improved for commuters, pedestrians and those in wheelchairs, he said, adding electricity cables will be moved underground. 

The concept is to make the strip a “green link” model for other streets in central business districts around the city. “Green link” is an international term widely used for shady and clean footpaths and accessibility for wheelchairs. In some countries, protected bike lanes and artistic elements are added. 

The project is the result of the Mahanakorn workshop — a training programme initiated by the BMA to bring private sector management into the work of high-level city officers. Local business operators are encouraged to help the government develop the city on a sustainable basis. Many operators have agreed to lend a hand. 

The project is also a part of City Hall’s goal to make the capital a more livable place. Another ambitious goal is ease pollution in the city by developing at least 5,000 rai of public parks 

The pilot project will cover a 1km-strip from Rama IX intersection to the T-junction near the Thailand Cultural Centre. It was chosen as a model development because of massive land development in the past few years along both sides of the road. 

Mr Kriangphon acknowledges that City Hall had made little effort to stop the development which is “extending both horizontally and vertically”. The road is full of large shopping malls, hotels, condominiums and office buildings. 

“The ongoing construction has led the condition of the roads and pavements to deteriorate, and caused more eyesores,” he said. 

The area had always attracted property developers. But that increased dramatically after the construction of the subway line. He said the project would help beautify this corner of the city and become a model for other areas now facing urban expansion and increased high-rise buildings. Another element to be added to the green link is bicycle lanes on both sides. 

“The bicycle lanes must be practical for cyclists,” stressed Mr Kriangphon. He was hoping to follow the success of the city’s only protected and most practical bike lane on Phra Arthit road. Most bike lanes in Bangkok are not recognised by other road users. “We will also improve and add more street ‘furniture’ to the road,” he added, referring to a range of facilities such as bus signs and benches for pedestrians, to artistic displays and trees. The planning department has been in discussions with experts to select the right tree species for the strip. Large trees may not be suitable as they can hinder the visibility of motorists, while those with a lot of flowers would cause cleaning problems. 

“In fact we want to plant unique trees only for Ratchadaphisek Road,” Mr Kriangphon said. The species has not yet been decided. For such eyesores as traffic signs and advertising cut-outs scattered along the strip, Mr Kriangphon said the department will suggest placing them only in suitable areas. The problem of street vendors is also a major challenge for the project. In Mr Kriangphon’s view, vendors will not be allowed to place their stalls on the pavements or the streets. They should be relocated to properly organised indoor markets, he said. 

The department plans to finalise the project’s details with the private sector in September. The first so-called green link strip should be ready for the public within a year. If the green link on Ratchadaphisek is to become a model and expand to other central business districts, it will have to be well received by local operators and the public. “Ratchaprasong, Silom, Ratchadamri, Ploenchit and Rama I will then be in the pipeline,” Mr Kriangphon said. 

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