Last year traffic accidents in Phnom Penh killed more than twice the number of people
claimed by land mines nationwide.
Traffic snarl-ups of jumbo proportions lie ahead as competing interests vie for space as this typical scene on Sisowath Quay shows.
With the number of vehicles hitting the crumbling road surface of the city's streets
increasing each year, Phelim Kyne and Vong Sokheng examine the present chaos and
future for Phnom Penh's traffic system.
Koizumi Yukihiro looks at the future of Phnom Penh's traffic system with a mixture
of dread and professional stoicism.
The Assistant Resident Representative for the Japan International Co-operation Agency
(JICA), which is providing funds and expertise for the development of a city traffic
master plan, Koizumi is blunt about the challenges that face planners in preventing
Phnom Penh from following the traffic chaos model of development that has blighted
capital cities across Asia.
With the number of registered vehicles in the city increasing 57% over the past five
years to 150,000 competing for road space with an estimated 73,780 more that enter
the city from the countryside and untold thousands of unregistered vehicles, Yukihiro
says that unless drastic action is taken soon, the city will be unable to cope.
"As people have more money they're buying more cars, and if private vehicles
increase in number without the development of any public transit system, the situation
in Phnom Penh will become as severe as Bangkok's," Yukihiro said.
And in a direct challenge to the longtime laissez-faire attitude of government to
the city's traffic woes, Yukihiro says effective, long-term strategies to alleviate
congestion must be implemented in the short term, or it will be too late.
While Phnom Penh's car-per-kilometer ratio of 34 cars per kilometer is a fraction
of the 1,332 vehicles that clog each kilometer of Bangkok, Yukihiro warns things
are changing fast. "Phnom Penh's traffic situation is currently better than
that of other Asian cities because the roads are wider and the number of vehicles
is still low compared to other cities," Yukihiro said. "But if there's
no improvement and if economic gains continue, in five years the situation will be
much more serious than now," he cautioned.
In an effort to save Phnom Penh from the traffic jams and pollution that have poisoned
the quality of life in other parts of Asia, JICA is funding a three-part, 15-year
plan designed to alleviate traffic congestion and provide alternatives to the vicious
cycle of spiraling private vehicle ownership that has blighted the streets of Bangkok.
The first stages of the JICA plan involve the trial of a city bus system, a systematic
upgrade of side street "collector roads" running parallel to main arteries
such as Monivong and Sihanouk Boulevards along with a traffic safety education program.
"The small collector roads are of very poor quality so there is an over-concentration
of traffic on main routes (such as Monivong Boulevard)," Yukihiro said. "Phnom
Penh streets also have a mixture of motorbikes, cars and cyclos driving in every
direction on all sides of the road, which is chaotic and also decreases road capacity."
JICA and counterparts in the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT) and the
Phnom Penh Municipality will evaluate the success of these initial measures before
deciding on the next plan of action.
Than Sina, Deputy Governor of Phnom Penh Municipality, is aware of the increasing
threat that traffic problems pose to city development and the safety of its citizens.
"We're in the process of trying to resolve it, but we don't yet have an integrated
plan," he said.
Sina said that the Municipality was upgrading a "beltway" system of perimeter
roads to relieve stress on the city's core main arteries using funding derived from
the sale of the old Youth Club property to the United States government.
Emphasis on stricter enforcement of traffic rules and driver education were also
on Sina's checklist of measures for mitigating the worst excesses of local drivers.
But Sina warned that successfully addressing the city's traffic problems involved
factors beyond the control of the Municipality.
"The city's traffic problem is a reflection of the effect that poverty has in
spurring rural migration to the city, as we saw in the seventies and eighties in
Bangkok and Jakarta," he explained. "Effective poverty alleviation measures
must be implemented nationwide in order to stem migration to the city and reduce
the number of people and vehicles on the city streets."
Funding and expertise was urgently needed to prevent Phnom Penh from replicating
the traffic crises that now define life in other major Asian cities, he adds.