Vehicle density

Overburdened infrastructure

In 1980, there were just 600,000 cars on the streets of Thailand’s capital, but by 1990 the number had risen to 2.3 million. With more cars and increasing mobility, the metropolis’ economy grew too – and that led to yet more people being able to afford motor vehicles of their own.

last contributed to D+C/E+Z in winter 2019/2020. He holds a PhD in transport planning and worked at the International College at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology in Bangkok from 2010 to 2014.
 

Traffic chaos in Thailand’s capital. kd Traffic chaos in Thailand’s capital.

Government subsidies and a massive expansion of the road infrastructure also did their part. Today, it is estimated that there are more than 5 million cars on Bangkok’s streets. This city, which, according to UN estimates, is home to about 10 million people, has one of the highest vehicle densities in Asia.

Road expansion was certainly useful, but growth has long since reached its limits. Bangkok’s road network can only handle about 2 million cars, so drivers on average spend an annual 60 hours stuck in traffic jams. INRIX, a private company based in the USA, has evaluated traffic data from 1,360 cities in 38 countries and found that Bangkok was world’s 11th most congested city in 2018.

The Thai research institution Kasikorn Research Center calculates that the traffic on Bangkok’s streets causes economic damage amounting to about 11 billion baht (over € 300 million) per year. If traffic injuries and deaths are added, an even more dramatic picture of the damage emerges.

Bangkok is a good example for roads often being governed not by fairness, but by the idea that might makes right. Cars, vans and buses force two-wheeled vehicles onto the shoulder and motorcycle taxis swerve onto sidewalks, endangering pedestrians.

On the other hand, awareness is growing in Thailand’s capital. There is a trend towards healthy lifestyles in some parts of society, and rental bikes are popping up in more and more places. The public transport network has been expanded through the Sky Train and the Bus Rapid Transit system (see my article in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2016/10, Focus section). In the inner city, pedestrians now have skywalks, their own dedicated walkways located above the streets and separate from all other traffic.

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