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Traffic Jams Spread In " Number One " City

By Malivarn Simanithone, Lao National Radio, Laos

For Aart Roffel, a former Dutch tourist who decided to live in Chiang Mai, the city is the "number one" place to live in Thailand. And many Bangkok people seem to agree – coming to settle in the "rose of the north"  because of its climate, beauty and easy-going atmosphere. But is Chiang Mai being "loved to death"?
Dr. Sirichai Narumitrekakarn, an environmental activist and chairman of Chiang Mai planning committee, a co-government-private sector planning body, moved to the city 16 year ago with his wife because they thought Bangkok was expensive, inconvenient and polluted. "My wife and I were refugees from Bangkok,"  he says.
The popularity of Chiang Mai has brought rapid development, from high-rise buildings and new roads to overcrowding and traffic jams. Major worries, says experts, include unplanned development, uncontrolled construction sites and serious air pollution caused by road traffic and household bonfires.
Traffic is among the worst problems. An estimated 90% of transport usage is private. Roads have become congested around market and commercial areas, at major junctions and near schools when parents drop off or collect their children. Traffic policemen, such as Yuttana Klueawang, now wear masks to protect them from exhaust fumes.
"The number of cars increases but the roads are still the same."  Mr. Yuttana said.
Dr. Boonsong Satayopad, a leading traffic expert at Chiang Mai University, said proper management of the demand for travel was essential. Chiang Mai operates two "public transport" systems, a fixed-route minibus between the suburbs and town and a non-fixed route red minibus, or "songtaew", which costs 10 baht per person. The songtaews can go anywhere but only operate where it is profitable.
Chiang Mai has over 3,000 privately owned songtaews. Mr. Sithone, 47, bought his songtaew for over 400,000 baht and has been driving it for 24 years. Each year he has to pay 700 baht in tax. He has 26 passengers a day, most of them locals, and says he earns about 100-200 baht daily for nine hours’ work.
Mr. Tom, a " tuk-tuk"  driver, charges his customers, most of them foreigners, 40 baht a trip and earns 300-400 baht a day. Most tuk-tuk drivers have to rent their machine from a tuk-tuk garage, he says. They pay 120 baht a day.
According to Dr.Boonsong, Chiang Mai must reduce private transport if it is to beat congestion and pollution. It needs public transport, conventional fixed route for buses and bicycle routes. With the aid of a government grant, a Chiang Mai University team is currently studying the scope for a bicycle network as well as improvements for pedestrians. One possibility is narrowing roads and widening footpaths to provide more space for pedestrians and bicycles.

Copyright 2009 IMMF.