Foot traffic proposed for Vietnam metro downtown

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Foreigners walk on Phan Chu Trinh Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City's urban planner has completed a study to introduce walking streets into the city's downtown in an effort to restrict personal vehicle use, Tuoi Tre quoted an official as saying Tuesday.

According to Huynh Xuan Thu, director of the HCMC Department of Planning and Architecture's Center for Zoning Information, the popular "backpackers' area" in District 1, where many expats and tourists gather, is among the three areas targeted by the study as a walking area. Two others are streets around Ben Thanh Market and Saigon Opera House, Thu said.

The study will be submitted to the People's Committee for approval before detailed plans are developed.

The study, which was conducted in cooperation with the Spanish-owned IDOM Co., also introduced public transportation resources in the selected areas. Additionally, it suggested planting more trees and keeping streets clean in those areas so walkers can enjoy "a comfortable atmosphere," Thu said.

The official was quoted as saying that HCMC wouldn't restrict all vehicles from the walking streets all the time, but would allow motorbikes to enter the areas at certain times so locals can transport goods for their business.

Meanwhile, parking lots would be set up near the walking areas, Thu added.

Thu said the plan suggests first restricting vehicles on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays so people can gradually get accustomed to the changes.

He acknowledged that people would have to sacrifice the freedom of riding their vehicles, but that locals would see economic and environmental benefits because the walking streets, if renovated, would attract more visitors.

"In these areas, in fact, locals have a demand for walking," the official said. He said very few vehicles circulate around Ben Thanh Market now, because of the the large number of tourists and locals.

On the other hand, Nguyen Minh Hoa, an urban development expert at HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said in Tuoi Tre that the idea is "impossible," because the areas are highly populated.

Restriction on vehicles will affect locals' life, not to mention that it will be very messy to place walking streets among residential areas where people live and do business, Hoa said.

Architect Le Van Nam from the HCMC Association of Architects praised the walking streets idea, but stressed that it needs careful planning and discussion, plus input from locals, before being implemented.

According to Tuoi Tre, this isn't the first proposal to introduce walking streets in the southern city.

In a project to zone the city's center, which is waiting for authorities' approval, Japanese-owned plan author Nikken Sekkei Co. has proposed five walking streets.

In 2003, the HCMC Department of Transport also proposed turning Dong Khoi Street in District 1 into a 930-meter walking street, but the project has made no progress. The same situation was repeated with a proposal for Nguyen Hue Street, also in District 1, made by a local company, Tuoi Tre said.

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